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.

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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.

Face Your Fears, Part Deux


About two months ago, I had mentioned in a post that it was time to get over my somewhat rational fear of dentists – or at least they work they do – and get the ball rolling with an exam and whatever else the dentist may recommend.

Today was that day. And the results of my visit were anything but favorable.

I went to a local office that has a sparkling reputation on Yelp! and is also where Anthony and my mother-in-law go for cleanings (she usually takes him so they get it done at the same time).

After filling out what seemed like an endless questionnaire regarding my personal health and dental visits, I was called into the back where I took a seat and had a series of 18 x-rays taken.

Things are definitely different now – they are digital. The last time I had them done, you still had to bite down on a small piece of plastic or cardboard whose corners felt pointy when the nurse stuck them in under your tongue. Then they had to develop them. Now you bite down on a device that transmits the image to a computer. So far, so good.

Then the dentist sat down next to me, introduced himself, went over the x-rays and pointed out everything that was wrong in my mouth (aside from the occasional profane language that slips out of it). Next, he let me know what he thought should be done first based on the severity of each condition.

Yeah. There’s that much. Fuuuuu…

It was during this consultation when I explained my fear and he told me that, of course, it wasn’t uncommon. He also told me how some of his patients were actually worse than me. (For privacy, I won’t go into details.) But the fact that I was sitting there speaking to him and preparing myself for whatever treatment he thought necessary put me way ahead of those he mentioned. I was already on the field ready to play; they hadn’t even shown up to the clubhouse.

His first recommendation was simple: bonding my two front teeth, both of which were a bit jagged at the bottom and could possibly chip at any moment. He also explained that this would be a great way to ease myself back into the patient’s chair and dental care as a whole.

And that’s where we started. I asked if I could listen to music during the procedure and he had no objections. In fact they supply their own if you need them but I’m not sure what kind of music I’d be listening to and I’m pretty picky with my headphones, so I used my own earbuds and thank goodness for Spotify Premium and my iPhone.

He told me to raise my left hand if I felt any discomfort during the procedure and amazingly, I didn’t. As he and his assistant blazed through the process of bonding my teeth, Avenged Sevenfold’s City of Evil kept my mind off of what was doing on inside my mouth. About the only thing that got to me, despite the volume level being somewhat high, was the scraping of the bonding material from the teeth. I feel myself cringing just typing about it.

(Listen to the album here)

And that was it. I had gotten this far and with only a few beads of sweat on my forehead and maybe a slightly left watery eye. And naturally, a sore jaw that is still sore. He told me that if I can survive this procedure with no anesthetic then the next one – a pretty big one – shouldn’t be an issue. He also referred me to an oral surgeon who will be handling the extraction. I’ve seen him before and he’s good, at least from what I can remember with the twilight sedation I was under.

Even so, I’m still worried about the next thing since I’ve never had it done. And after that I’ve got a laundry list of other things that needs to be checked off. Strangely, the tooth with missing parts wasn’t the worst one. Sure, it will still have to get extracted but the x-rays showed that another one that I knew was slightly chipped had worse damage to it, and that’s the next thing to be taken care of in a few weeks.

We had planned on taking a road trip to San Francisco this year but unfortunately, it looks like the summer will be have to be scheduled around all of my procedures. Additionally, the job gives us three paid Summer Days that we can take for three-day weekends if we wish. Those plus my remaining sick hours and possibly some vacation days will most likely used for days I need to have work done.

Then there’s paying for all of this. Even with insurance, it’s goodbye, Vacation Fund!

But at least I’ve taken the first step toward having better dental hygiene. It will take some time and money to get it all right but I know it will definitely be for the best.

Face Your Fears


6425b286c9f1ca14ba538f0e8d20ff45Next week is the start of our vacation in fabulous Las Vegas. It’s something that we had planned for months and saved up for, and we have a list of things to accomplish while we are there, some free and some not.

Either way it’s happening and nothing is going to stop us from enjoying some time away from home and office, and just be a family. Our list is long. It will be [mostly] conquered. You will see pictures on Instagram.

But the one thing I’m not looking forward to when we return is something that I really should have done sooner: visit the dentist. You see, I’ve got a few teeth – well, one is a partial tooth – that need some TLC or perhaps even an extraction. The last time I put off a dentist visit was years ago when I had a tooth literally rotting away and at one point, cold air entering my mouth (when I would inhale while speaking) would produce excruciating pain. I can’t even describe it but I know I couldn’t speak much. My coworkers secretly loved it I’m sure.

While one of the teeth in question has yet to reach that point, I don’t want it to. The other tooth is chipped and will need some care as well but nothing like the other.

Now you’re probably wondering why I just don’t go right-effing-now to get it done. There really isn’t a reason why I shouldn’t – I have dental insurance and plenty of sick days at work. But the answer is simple: I am afraid.

I fear dentist offices. Everything about them. The sound, the smell, the feeling. I will go to the doctor and have every exam possible done to me without hesitation. I will give blood without a second thought. But the dentist? I have to be forced.

In fact when I had to get that rotting tooth extracted, I paid the extra $300 to be put to sleep during the procedure. It was money well spent considering I didn’t have to expose myself to all that freaks me out. I remember counting to three and then waking up, asking the dentist if they had done anything at all. It was nice.

But the fear is still there, and with good reason.

Today, there are several kinds of people who work strictly on teeth. The dentist is for check-ups and cleanings. Your oral surgeon specializes in pulling teeth. Orthodontists straighten them out.

And when I was growing up, orthodontia was starting to take off. I mean, every freaking kid had braces and yours truly was no exception, in addition to wearing neck gear and a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth (later removed by Ann’s boss, an orthodontist).

Before I could have my braces put into place, I had to go to the dentist to get four teeth extracted. Yes, four. Two top, two bottom. And they were not in any condition to be extracted, meaning they had pretty much taken up residence and had no fear of ever being removed.

That all changed.

Remember, this was the time before oral surgeons and other kinds of specialists so my dentist was the one who had to do it. And when I think of that day, it’s pretty traumatic. There was blood all over gloved hands. Grinding and crunching sounds. Tools banded around the teeth to be extracted. Feeling the pressure of the teeth being pulled from my jaw (and I don’t handle physical pressure well). The dentist sitting what seemed to be literally on top of my while be tried with all his might to remove these four teeth. And of course, seeing the tooth in all its glory being held by a pair of pliers and seemingly six inches long. It all seemed cartoonish, but gone horribly awry.

I’ll be honest about this. That experience traumatized me for life. If not for this, I would have no problems happily skipping myself to a dentist for any kind of routine work. But as it stands now, that experience really messed me up and I won’t go until I’m at a point where things can’t wait any longer.

It’s stupid. It’s most likely not good for me. But then again, neither is drinking soda but I’ve already stopped doing that. (Seriously, stop drinking that garbage. It’s got no nutritional value and is a shit-storm of chemicals in a can. STOP. IT. NOW.)

So I’ve decided that upon our return from vacation, I need to face my fears and get this shit taken care of before it gets to the point my last extraction reached. I’m not sure how many people I will have to see or what, but I know that sucking it up and being a man about it is the only thing I can do.

Here’s hoping that nothing happens while on vacation or at the very least, I win $300 on the slots to pay for the twilight anesthesia.

Because I’m gonna need it.

Broken 


That’s pretty much how I feel after today’s unplanned visit to my doctor.

The tendinitis that’s been bothering my right wrist/thumb turned out to be a little worse than another doctor had diagnosed. I kind of figured that was going to be the case because the pain is still there and only seems to be getting worse.

In fact, this doctor — my on-again, off-again sawbones — did a much more thorough exam that included my squeezing his fingers and a lot of poking and prodding along the areas where I feel the pain. He confirmed that’s it’s definitely tendinitis and recommend a cortisone shot to alleviate the pain.

I’ll get it sometime. Today wasn’t that day.

Also worth noting is that the compression band I’ve been wearing on my wrist isn’t doing much good because most of the affected area is in my thumb. He suggested one that not only covered my wrist but thumb as well.

As far as the cause of it, he believes it to be a work-related injury because I can’t honestly tell you anything I might have done outside of work to bring it on. I’m 46 and my extreme sports days are far behind me (as if they ever existed) so he’s probably right. When I think about everything I do and have done at my job it’s easy to see how it could be the cause. Plus, throwing around 20-lb. boxes of frozen dough in the Bakery every night probably isn’t helping me. The job is very hands-on and physical with little time to take it easy.

In short, it has broken me.

Now the fun part. Because I’m in the Bakery, I’m constantly putting on and taking off gloves. It’s gotten to a point where putting a glove on my right hand is a painful experience, one that is repeated all night long. There’s no way I can get better if I’m doing this, plus wearing a compression sleeve on top of that. I haven’t even mentioned how many times I wash my hands in a typical shift (let’s just say it’s plenty).

And if it doesn’t get better then surgery could be in my future. Just what I always wanted! (Can you sense my sarcasm?)

If I get a doctor’s note that limits my workload, I really don’t know what I would be doing because everything in a grocery store is very physical. I know for sure that my current position would be out that’s since what broke me in the first place. Bagging and front end duties would also be impossible. I just don’t know, but I guess I’ll find out when I get a note from him on Monday. The only logical solution would be to get a less physical job and trust me, I’ve been looking but nothing is turning up. Even so, writing with a pen tends to inflame the injury, making it hard to do. Heck, even moving it in the wrong direction will make yell with pain. It’s no fun at all and makes me grumpy. We’ll see what happens.

I also found out I gained about 15 pounds between visits (about 7 years) so he wants me to work on bringing that down as well as getting some blood work done. I’m on it.

But there has to be some kind of good news amongst all this, right? Well there  is. I’ll just let this tweet summarize things.

So…there’s that.

Goooooodnight, everybody.

Composed on my iPad using the WordPress app and SwiftKey, because it’s not as painful as typing on a traditional keyboard