Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Thankful Semicolon Update

My 1st attempt at adult coloring
to help me focus and distract from
the pain
This will probably go down in my 65-year history as my most gratitude-filled Thanksgivings ever.  I'm just happy to be here! One month ago today I underwent emergency surgery for a twisted/blocked bowel.  (See the October 31 Not All Adventures are Fun post for details). Following eight days in the hospital, nine at home, a second trip to the ER, four more nights in the hospital, and a trip to the ER two nights ago, I can say I have turned the corner!

My energy, appetite, and mental cognition are finally back, but my normal weight and body fat need to go up, way up. The incision site looks good.  I still have constant abdominal pain and the swelling, but they are a fraction of what they were a month ago, and less than one week ago.  It is so good to be off the two different antibiotics, each with their food restrictions and different schedules all of hours of the day and night.  And the post-opiod  mental fog and withdrawal symptoms are finally gone.
Quite a difference from a month ago!

My midnight visit to the ER two nights ago was for left arm tingling and numbness, a suspected serious side effect from one of the antibiotics.  Fortunately that wasn't the case and my EKG was just fine. (Turned out to be a pinched nerve).

I'm back at work part-time, and the surgeon gave me the green light to drive, ride a stationary bike easy and swim gentle laps in the pool. She thinks I can resume my normal workouts in about a month.  She also showed me the CT scan from just before the surgery.  We caught it just an hour or two before my lower bowel burst and really bad things could have happened. Apparently I have had symptoms of this in the past few months, but I just passed them off as gas pains and they went away.
Our upcoming Thanksgiving feast

Needless to say, I have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving:  our abundance, family, friends, freedom, and above all,  health.  I'm even more grateful for every single day, my blessings, and the people in my life.  I know it’s a cliché, but it only takes something like this to drive the point home.  Finally, even though it seems like the world is falling apart, it’s great to be alive in the 21st Century with its modern medicine.  My stocking cap goes off to the caring medical team at Salem Hospital.

Thanks to all of you for your well wishes and inquiries, and an extra special thanks  go to my wife, Kathy, and to my amazing coworkers at The H Group, Inc.  

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!  Kathy and I are celebrating with friends Bob and Lisa Martinsson, fellow adult Thanksgiving orphans in Lake Oswego.  They're experimenting with a mail order dinner that arrived yesterday.

; Ron

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Road---to Recovery at Home!

I'm finally home again, hopefully for good!  The doctors released me based on a high side of a normal white cell count, two CAT scans that showed no leakage outside of the bowels, no abscess, and discontinued use of high-powered IV pain killers.  The two different kinds of IV antibiotics over four days seemed to have worked their magic.  Apparently I had some internal infection and highly irritated tissues at the surgery site.

So after picking up oral antibiotics, I luxuriated this afternoon in a deep sleep nap snuggled among smooth fitted sheets and uninterrupted silence.  I awakened without a tangled up mess of course hospital blankets, an awkward hospital gown and IV tubes.  Ah... the simple things in life!

My bloating and all of it's relative pain from the October 25 surgery is pretty much gone, as is the soreness from the incision site.  The pain is now internal where things were sewn or stapled together, and it comes and goes in big waves, but is generally much better and tolerable than what admitted me to the ER Tuesday and the hospital for a second time on Wednesday.    Other than the differences between the pain from my first discharge on October 31 and today is that this time I have basically no energy.

Kathy had to create a spreadsheet
just to keep track of everything.
It goes without saying that it is so good to be home.  Beyond sleeping and bathing comforts, our own TV, broadband internet, our view, our own cooking, the quite, the lack of constant interruptions day and night.  All of these bring a sense of place and calm to what is home.

Once again, big thanks go to the wonderful  nursing staff at Salem Hospital (many of whom I was privileged to see again), Kathy for her advocacy, visits, and nursing care at home, all of you who have wished me well, the doctors, and modern medicine that are making this second chance at life possible.

This has been quite an adventure, but one that makes me cherish all of the others I've written about so much more.

I'm learning of other friends and relatives who have had this same type of thing.  They have given me a lot of reassurance, education, and hope, especially since one of them is a doctor.  We call ourselves semi-colons.

My prime directive!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Good News, but Still Much Uncertainty

Wednesday I went to a scheduled meeting with one of my surgeons, but I arrived with severe localized cramps and the chills.  Gratefully, she admitted me to Salem Hospital, and I was so cramped up that I had to be wheeled into my room.
After the good news

Her concerns were that I might have C-diff, a nasty and highly contagious infection.  After a night of IV antibiotics, pain meds, and fluids (plus a lot of frequent interruptions), I felt better on Thursday .  Then I got the good news this afternoon that I do NOT have C-diff! Even when even when I am unlucky, I am lucky.
Before as a precaution 

No more hazmat suits which made everyone look 10 pounds heavier.
A very attractive model

So, what’s up?  Friday we’ll get new blood results, and hopefully the white cell count will have lowered.  I go in for two CAT scans—one with IV iodine, and another oral dye.  They will be looking for a leak where the small and large intestines were sewn together, an abscess, or both.  Or maybe they won’t find anything but highly traumatized  and inflamed tissue.  Hopefully it's an abscess.

The abscess can likely be drained with invasive radiology inserting a drain tube.  The leak be fixed by either a few days of no foods or liquids orally (so that it heals without food passing through) or worst case by surgery again.  The docs seem to think at this point that it is probably an abscess.  With luck I might be out of here by Sunday or Monday.  Until then, my goal is to try to strike up a conversation with everyone I encounter and try to make them laugh or smile.  They have tough thankless jobs.

My trusted steed for walk
At least this time, my stay is easier because I can get out of bed without assistance, wander around, and take a shower.  The oxycodone seems to hype me up.  Yesterday, I participated in two one-hour webinars on Thursday, responded to a lot of emails, spent way too much on social media, and wrote this.  But concentration and reading are hard.  My chief complaint now is the clear diet and boredom.  Time to start mindlessly binge watching on Netflix and Amazon Prime with some good pain meds.

Thanks for all your well wishes and concerns! They said it's okay to have visitors, but call or email first, in case I'm having tests or am under the influence.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Step Backward into the ER

Here we go again
Progress is not always a straight line. Monday was another in a series of good days since I returned home a week ago.    I didn't take Tylenol with breakfast, I walked to work, climbed three flights of stars, and worked for a couple of hours, then walked home.  However I woke up late in the night with major and frightening abdominal pains.  This morning, the surgeon told me to check into the ER.

After five hours of IV pain medications and fluids, a normal CAT scan and chest X-ray, and blood and urine tests, nobody knows why this happened.  My white cell and platelet counts are way up, and the doctors are just as baffled by them as we are.

It seems like I'm right back to where I was a week ago, but with much better bowel functions, less bloating,  and a growing appetite.
Tuna Noodle Casserole Tonight

The ER doc suggested I spend the night for observation and pain control.  As I was about to agree, some loud voices in the hallway and an automatic door slamming for the 15th time made the decision for me.  I'm much more comfortable and I can get more rest at home.  I had a luxurious uninterrupted nap this afternoon snuggled in smooth sheets,without an awkward and stupid hospital gown, and  hourly interruptions for vitals.  And I like my own and Kathy's cooking much better.
No more staples!

The good news is that I got my staples removed and the incision and its drains show no signs of infection.
Sunday's big breakfast before a drive
through the countryside

And the other good news is that as I'm about to publish this, I am feeling slightly better.

Thanks to all of you for you concerns and well wishes.  Trust me, it means a lot.  Some have wondered how I can write a blog under these kinds of circumstances.  For me, writing this is a brief distraction from the pain.

One final thought:  This is one helluva way to lose 10 pounds and 2.5% body fat!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Not All Adventures Are Fun

The calm before the storm.  Stoller Winery
with Victor Pancichkul, Kathy, Charles Price,
Steve & Christina Martin, and Larry Gray
One week ago, Kathy and I enjoyed a fun Sunday afternoon at Stoller Winery with friends.  Later that night, following extreme stomach cramps, I had emergency surgery for a twisted bowel (known in medical terms as a cecal volvulus).   I thought my gut was going to explode! The surgeons removed about three inches of my small intestine and about six inches of my colon, then connected them together.   I got my appendix removed as well.
The large black lines were the incision
points, later sewn together.
According to the Internet Machine, these are sudden, random and very rare, with about 200,000 cases per year, and most are not as severe or require surgery.
3 days post surgery,
before the drains
were inserted.

A typical daily agenda, minus
 listings of the many other
non-pain medications,
injections, and antibiotics.
Thanks to all of you for you kind wishes and inquiries.  I was too sick and drugged up to accept visitors or even phone calls.  And I can't risk an infection, especially one that makes me cough.  I will be discharged from Salem Hospital later today after my last IV antibiotic course is finished.
Turns out I was allergic to tape, so
 the area surrounding my 9" incision
 is highly inflamed and itchy.

I am lucky!  It happened out of the blue at the right time and place before internal bleeding or
gangrene.   The attack and the post-surgery recovery are the most painful things I have ever experienced.  We had just returned from our Desert Trip rock concert Indo, CA, and we were starting to pack for our bicycle tour of Cuba, departing November 1.  Had this happened during these trips things would have turned out much worse.

It turns out that we wouldn't have been able to go to Cuba after all, because Kathy's mom was rushed to the ER on Saturday for a urinary tract infection and a wildly fluctuating heart beat.  (Poor Kathy--dealing with both of us in the hospital at the same time!) We couldn't have left with a clear conscience with no support for her locally.  I got some good doctor-ordered walks going to visit her in the CV unit in the other building.  She's back at Dallas Retirement Village and apparently feeling much better then I do.

I was also lucky to have this happen in 2016 instead of 1966 or earlier.  The medications and the diagnostic tools truly are a marvel.  I dread getting the bill for all of this.  My guess is about $50,000+  but I'm lucky again to have insurance to cover most of it.  This experience would  have been much more stressful wondering if I could afford any of it.

View from my window
The hard-working nursing and support staff  Salem Hospital were models of kindness, attentiveness, and professionalism.  Indeed, visiting with them many times of day and night over they past week as they took care of me was the highlight of the whole experience.  I gained a lot of insight about what it's like to work in a hospital and juggle their home lives around three 12-hour shifts per week.  It's a stressful and physically-demanding job.  I now have a HUGE appreciation for daughter Feruza, a nurse in New York in a ward similar to mine.

I generated about 3 of these a day,
and much more during my surgery.
(Sorry, planet.)
I can resume a normal diet, but I don't have an appetite or stomach capacity to eat much.  Those of you who know me well know that I usually don't have any trouble passing gas.  Part of my condition of going home was being able to have a few big farts, and at least one bowel movement.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, but I still have much more to do so that my stomach isn't the first thing entering a room.  The hardest part of my recovery is waiting 5-6 weeks before I can resume exercising, and probably much longer to get back to where I was two weeks ago.

As the title says, not  all adventures are fun. This was one of them, but it was a good opportunity to reflect upon how things can change in an instant, the nature of pain, and to appreciate good health and all of the people in my life.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rock On!

Ariel view from a drone (not our photo)
As we soak in the brisk autumn air at an Ashland campground, this post is hard to write because we don’t know how to summarize last weekend’s Desert Trip rock concert in Indio, CA.  Four days later, we’re still in awe of the whole experience, basking in a warm happy glow.  It will be a weekend we will always remember as one of the most fun and joyous things we have ever done.   We’ve been to over 150 symphonies, two dozen operas and many musicals, but probably only about five rock concerts.  So this was quite a new experience for us.
Cooling off in the
Beer Tent

Nick Jagger of the Stones called it "OldChella" and the “See them before they croak festival.”  The Wall Street Journal called it the “Biggest, Oldest, Over-the-Top Rock Festival Ever.”  We have to agree.  Spread over two weekends, each with 75,000 attendees, it was huge and quite an experience to share with 74,998 other people from all over the world in a big state of happiness.  

Pre-concert fun with
CA and OR friends
However, unless you count the performers (average age 72.4), it probably wasn’t the oldest, as about 80% of the attendees were younger than us, many of them under 40.  The festival grossed $160 million before concessions --$10 for a Coors, (much more for Oregon microbrews), $16 Wandering Angus ciders, $10 ice cream cones, $40 T-shirts.

We stayed at a very nice RV park about three miles away, which swelled to near capacity as other attendees arrived Thursday afternoon, in 94⁰+ heat.  We’re really glad we didn’t stay in the crowded official campground right on the polo grounds with all of its dust, rules, and booze rationing.  (We would have needed to relinquish our treasure Reno purchases if we had stayed.)
Young Mick Jagger inspecting
new Dylan Albun

Roger Daltry
(The Who) 
The venue outside of the performance area itself was HUGE, to coin a Trump phrase.  It was a 3/4-mile walk from the shuttle bus drop off the entrance.  Lots of food booths, countless beers on tap, 1000 toilets, and above all, a fascinating photography exhibit with hundreds of photos of the performers from their early days.

This is just half the audience
The performance area, under the sunset and the moon rise, was magical.  We had decent grandstand seats, but as symphony patrons, we weren’t used to the spilled beer, the people coming and going, standing up blocking our view, and the smell of pot and cigarette smoke drifting our way.

The highlights were the performers, except for Bob Dylan.  He totally sucked! What a reclusive jerk, who never even once acknowledged the audience.  (We heard that the first weekend was worse—glad we didn’t hear him last week!).  

The Rolling Stones before the fireworks

The Stones knocked it out of the park and more than made up for Dylan’s dismal performance.  Mick Jagger struts like he was 30.  Charlie Watts, rarely smiled, but kept the hard-driving beat going.  Keith Richards, in spite of the jokes about him, was at the top of his game.  We can only wish to be that talented and fit at that age.
Neil Young's stage

The second night featured Neil Young and Paul McCartney.  We aren’t huge Neil Young fans, but he surprised us and everyone with his energy and the well-done visuals on the screen the size of a football field.  Paul, was simply fabulous, and Kathy’s first choice.  He went for 2.5 hours with old Beatles favorites and more recent stuff.  He added context to many of the songs, providing us with some history that added new meaning to the songs.  His drummer was fantastic.  Rhianna joined him for a tune, but the highlight was the encore when Neil joined him for Give Peace a Chance, A Day in the Life, and Why Don't We Do it in the Road, breaking strings near the end. 
Paul & Neil young

The third night featured The Who and Roger Waters (formerly Pink Floyd).  I think The Who was my favorite of the three days.  Their visuals totally synced with their high-energy music.  Pink Floyd was a stoner mellow, and the older Canadian couple in front of us asked us if we had a joint to share (we didn’t). Their graphics were spectacular, and I read somewhere that they could be seen from space.  Some press accounts said that Roger Waters plowed much of his $20 million paycheck into the production--it showed!  It included a gigantic anti-Trump inflatable pig, and some of his political statements got a little old. We left at the encore.
Pink Floyd Set

Pink Floyd's many sets
Everyone was in a good mood, and unbelievably polite.  The event was extremely well-organized and well-staffed.  And speaking of staff, every one of them from the janitors to the security guards, to the ushers, to the food servers were models of friendly service that would challenge that of Nordstroms.

The Stanford mansion. in Sacramento. We toured this and the
state capitol with Cindy Brockway, Kathy's Assistance
 League friend and former board member.
We did this on a whim, but like some of the best things in our lives have been the result of a whim.  It was three days of sleep deprivation, energy, hot weather, euphoria, and community.  It was three days we’ll always remember with fondness.  If you see us next week with a distant look in our eyes, we're still there.  Rock on!
Outside governors office
at CA state capitol.   
The only campers in a ghost town
at Col. Allensworth State Park,
founded by African Americans in 1906
Col. Allensworth Historic State
Park north of Bakersfield.
(Not our photo, but we
did have a moon rise)

Mt. Shasta on
beautiful drive home

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Backroads to Joshua Tree and Indio

A Joshua Tree
Many things make us happy, but bike riding or driving on an undiscovered backroad road is a special delight.  Our new discovery was the East Sierra Nevada Scenic Byway, which runs from Carson City, NV to about Ridgecrest on Highway 395. 

Actually, when pulling a trailer, we find that most backroads are more relaxing and enjoyable than freeways.  This was especially fun, as a Sirius Radio station was broadcasting from the first weekend of the ‘Oldchella’ concert, playing songs from the groups and adding color commentary.
Hwy 395 south of Bishop, CA

Breakfast view at Bridgeport, CA
At our first night camping on the banks of the Metolius River, we smelled fumes and noticed a drip under the engine.  We had to add a quart of oil enroute, and thought it was just a little excess burning off.  The gauge said everything was fine so we continued on to Susanville for our second night.  On Monday, we decided to stop by the VW dealership in Reno to buy another couple of quarts of oil just in case.  Good thing, as they discovered a leak in a fuel injector and the fumes we were smelling were actually fuel, which, they warned us, could ignite and explode at any time. 

View from Conway Summit,elevation 8900'
But even in our bad luck, we are lucky.  They had the $42 part in stock, three hours later we were on the road again, and he fume smells were gone.  We found a beautiful campground at sunset near Bridgeport, CA populated by very sociable  hunters.

Morning at Indian Cove Campground, JT NP
After a 400+ mile day
The east side of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains were stunning, and the traffic was light for the first 275 miles.  Such a stark contrast to the massive freeways and urbanization just 50-100 miles to the west.  The last 125 were not fun or very scenic, but it was worth the effort to make it to Joshua Tree National Park.  We found a secluded campsite among gigantic boulders and a vista of the plains below, with nearly a full moon.

Joshua Tree NP is north of Palm Springs and Indio, and east of Redlands.  It's hard to imagine this much wilderness so close to the LA area.  The park is where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet, and the two are very unique in appearance and vegetation.This is the most primitive and laid back national park we have ever experienced.  It’s huge, but without tour busses, traffic, gift shops, and mobs of visitors with selfie sticks.  There is no water, except at the four entrances.  The restrooms are pit toilets.     

Inside Hidden Valley, JT NP
Joshua Tree
Joshua trees are the park’s namesake, but in our mind, the key attractions are the rock formations and vast desert vistas.  The trees are relatives of the yucca plant.  They don’t have rings like typical trees, but botanists estimate them be up to 150 years old.  We spent a very pleasant day hiking among the trees, desert plants, and the rocks in 80+ degree weather. 

Not all trees are Joshuas. 

Cacti in the Colorado Desert portion of JTNP
As we listen to the crickets on a nearly full moon and gaze at the surreal moonlit rocks in our campground, we still don’t know fully know what to expect for the Desert Trip experience, but we do know that it will be a stark contrast to the remote serenity of Joshua Tree NP.

Friday, October 7, 2016

On Our Way to “Oldchella”

The Line Up
“They aren’t getting any younger, and neither are we,” said Kathy as she looked at a Facebook post while we were on our way to Ashland last May.  “Let’s do it!” we impulsively decided.

She was referring to the rock stars performing at Desert Trip, the big three-day rock concert at the Coachella Music Festival near Indio, CA.  Mick Jagger, one of the performers has dubbed it “Oldchella.”  He’s right, the average age of the performers is 72.  The Stones kick it off Friday evening. 

So tomorrow we’re hitching up the Airstream and taking the backroads to southern CA.  We’re spending tomorrow night on the Metolius River at Camp Sherman, our favorite Oregon campground, where we’ve camped every summer for the past 20 years.  (We missed it earlier this year, and we don't want to break our 20-year streak).  Then on the way we’ll visit some of her Assistance League friends in Klamath Falls, and hike and camp in Sequoia and Joshua Tree National Parks. 

The Saha's, Rotarians from India
Although we’re eager to hit the road again, it’s been nice to stay home for a couple of months.  We’ve both had a lot of work to do, both for business and our community commitments.  And we managed to have some fun here and there working out, eating out, and hanging out.  We hosted a delightful couple from the New Delhi area of India, rode bikes, visited wineries, and I got a backpacking trip to Mt. Jefferson with my good friend, Ken VanOsdol.  
View from our Mt. Jefferson wilderness camsite

Kathy led some workshops in Dallas, TX for the national Assistance League convention.  She finished her 8+ years of service with the organization, first as Finance Chair, then heading up Technology.  Check out the new website she just launched for the Salem-Keizer chapter of Assistance League.
She's happy to be home, and I'm happy to have her home!

We’ll post a couple of dispatches from the road.  Hopefully we’ll come back with our hearing intact, but probably with a few less brain cells.

 In case you missed them, here is a link to more photos of our road trip with some additional commentary.  Many of them weren’t in our previous blog.  You don’t have to be on Facebook to see them; simply click on this link.  

Until then, rock on!