December 3, 2023

Like driving in snow

 I have been in one car accident as a driver. Well, maybe one and a half.

It sounds like it is less so today, but "back in my day" teenagers were typically champing at the bit to get their driver's licenses. Driver's ed class, learner's permit at 15 1/2, begging your parents to take you out in their car to practice driving in the Sears parking lot on the weekends. Both Mom and Dad's cars had manual transmissions, so I had to learn to drive a stick shift from the very beginning. During the driving portion of the test to get my license, I managed to stall the car before leaving the parking lot, but thankfully things improved from there and I passed. 

My driver's ed was an actual class at the high school. For some reason, I didn't take it in the earliest possible quarter. I seem to remember that some other class had taken priority. By the time I received my license, Mom was as or more excited about it. I was working at McDonald's and pretty regularly worked the closing shift. For the few months pre-license she was kind enough to come pick me up after midnight when I had that shift. The things parents do for us, that we don't fully appreciate at the time how much of a pain in the ass it was. Saints.

Around the same time, my older brother's El Camino became an additional family car, so that was the first vehicle I would get to drive on a semi-regular basis. Initially it was just to and from work, but eventually I got to drive it to other places including school. The car was one of those initial steps to independence that seemed so huge as a teenager. 

One morning I was driving to school and there was snow on the ground. Two cars ahead of me another student driver stopped mid-block unexpectedly, I think to talk to someone on the other side of the road. The car in front of me slid, but was able to stop in time. The El Camino and I, empty truck bed and wider than average rear tires, did not. After a low-speed skid into the car in front of me, the lead car took off. A rear end collision is basically always your fault, but I did internally shake my fist in the air at the driver in the first car as she sped away. 

The first car that was really mine was a 1967 Mustang. I bought it for $1,300 the day after graduating from high school. A Mustang is a classic car, but mine was more of a mutt than a purebred. Mismatched paint and parts, three speed manual, and goofy aftermarket mag wheels. But that kinda ugly classic was mine, and would be my daily driver for more than a decade. 

The Mustang had the same problem as the El Camino in the snow - rear wheel drive, and little weight over the wheels to provide any traction. I could get stuck on the gentlest of slopes, so I learned to leave plenty of room between the car in front of me, and idle slowly to red lights so that I could be still moving when the light turned green. 

One afternoon while I was driving my girlfriend home in the snow, I described to her how easy it was to lose traction in my car. All I had to do was tap the gas pedal a little too quickly, and for some reason I proceeded to provide a demonstration. Soon we were in a spin, uphill somehow, crashing ass-end against the hillside on the other side of the road. Really impressed her that day.

After a brief two year period when I had a front wheel drive Volkswagen, I was back to a rear wheel drive Dodge truck for the next fifteen years. Between the Mustang, Dodge and my previous mishaps, I learned to be a very cautious driver in the snow, even now with an all wheel drive car. Nice and easy, no sudden movements, slow and steady my friend.

One of the things I was worried about for the surgery recovery period was cabin fever. Even on normal days, I get a little twitchy if I am cooped up for long. A dog walk is an easy solution, but if it is raining too much (Izzy thinks she will melt), a drive to run an errand may happen just to get out of the house. For a few weeks post-surgery, there would be no walks or driving as a means of escape. 

Like several other worries, the cabin fever was not as bad as I expected. I leaned into the PT schedule, did lots of reading, binged a show or two, and had a number of visitors stop by to say hello or to take me out for a meal. That said, I was looking forward to being able to drive, to feel that bit of independence again. 

During a follow up visit with a surgical assistant, among other questions I asked about when I would be able to drive. The doctor said basically anytime now, as long as I was not on any narcotics (no problem there, I had given up the Oxycodone three days post-surgery). She suggested first getting in and out of the car, to see how that felt. If that went OK, to try stomping on the brake to see if that caused any pain.

After a successful "test drive" without going anywhere, I waited a few extra days before hitting the road. I first ventured out to the grocery store one evening when traffic would be lighter. A few days later, another drive to the library to restock. Next, to the office for some short, in-person work days. All the while, driving cautious and slow. Lots of space between cars. No sudden moves. 

Like I was driving in snow. 

November 12, 2023

Walking the line

Just like all the days before:

  • Mornings are the worst.
  • First steps are always the hardest.

My recovery from surgery began at my friend's/neighbor's house. I had dropped off my clothing, some food, and recovery tools the day before, and post-surgery I was set up in a bedroom in their basement. They were very kind to take me in, and to take care of me. I wasn't sure what recovery would look like, but I knew I was in good hands. 

After getting settled in, it was on to doing my homework. Every hour I was to be up walking with my walker. I was given PT exercises to complete every two hours, followed by icing and elevation of my leg. There were also varying schedules of pills to be taken, so though I had little to do, it felt like my schedule was full. 

One of the things I was worried about during recovery was sleeping on my back. I don't sleep all that well on the best of days, and whenever I end up sleeping on my back, it makes my back ache. My back was already a bit of a mess prior to surgery, so that added to the nervousness. With a 4:15am wake up the morning of surgery, I was plenty tired and fell asleep relatively quickly.

Unfortunately, I woke up about four hours later and couldn't find any real sleep the rest of the night. I had the same recurring anxiety dream that would have had me tossing and turning, but I felt like I couldn't move without messing with my leg. The next three nights were similar, and it would take that long for me to figure out that it was the Oxycodone that was making my mind spiral. 

That first morning when it was finally a reasonable hour to get up, it took a good ten minutes to get out of bed. Any minor movement of my leg felt like I was tearing it apart. As miraculous as the day before seemed, moving around under my own power, it felt like I was going to need to be airlifted out of bed the following morning. 

Once up, things started to loosen up a bit, and I could shuffle my way around. A physical therapist came by that first afternoon to check on how I was doing the exercises, and how I was doing overall. She instructed me to walk more smoothly and naturally. She also had me go up and down a flight of stairs. Be careful, but press on.

The first six days were filed with PT home work, walking laps of the basement, and lots of reading in bed. The last three days I made it upstairs to have dinner with my generous hosts. There was still plenty of pain, but each day it felt like I was making progress. 

I went home on day seven and have been home for a little more than a week now, and it feels like progress has slowed a bit. I am still doing my PT homework, and walking regularly, but for the first few days I think I was sitting in a chair too much when I should have been lying down on the couch or bed. At my two week follow up appointment with a surgical assistant she took off the bandage and let me know that I was at a good place for recovery. But then she said she wanted me to be a "couch potato" for another four weeks. 

The concern is that with this type of hip replacement you can feel a little too good when the joint is not yet stable, and you can really mess things up. My friends had told me a story of another friend of theirs who did just that, had to get a second surgery, and is still not fully recovered. I keep this in the back of my mind as a reminder.

After running nineteen marathons and tackling other difficult physical challenges, I have learned to push through pain to get to the finish line, to go to a certain place in my mind to press on when my body is begging me not to. When you walk that line just right, it can take you to amazing places, but I have crossed it a couple of times. At one end of my much smaller walking loop at my house, there is another reminder. 

This is a picture of me on a backpacking trip with friends about ten years ago. We were on our way back to the car after a great few days in the woods. This spot is next to a massive tree, and almost exactly a mile from the finish. I was beyond struggling and already suffering. Along with the usual gear, I am carrying an inflatable raft belonging to one of our crew so we could fish at the lake where we camped. The pack was borrowed, and as you can see the weight is not properly distributed. My back was already screaming. 

I just wanted to get through it, to make the pain stop. I went to that place in my mind that I had visited before. I got quiet, not really replying to my friends' conversations. When we reached the trailhead, my friends stopped for a group picture, but I kept walking. They called after me, but I couldn't stop, going straight to the car. Once I got the pack off my back, I broke down, wept and hyperventilated. They had no idea how much pain I was in (because of course I hadn't said anything), and I properly freaked them out, thinking I was having an attack of some sort. I thought I knew what I was doing, what my limits were, and I was wrong. 

I have pushed up against my limits since then, but I like to think I have learned my lesson about taking it too far. Hopefully there will be other finish lines in my future, but this is the most important one right now. Right now, slow and steady wins the race. It is a marathon, and not a sprint. Part of physical therapy is to push through some discomfort, but you have to walk the line more carefully while your body recovers. Keep moving forward, but don't do anything stupid. 

Don't be that guy in the picture. 

November 8, 2023

Not all original parts

As I wrote about in this post and elsewhere, I found out I had arthritis in my right hip at the beginning of 2021. The pain and impact on my life increased over the next couple of years, and surgery was a matter of when, not if. I met with a surgeon in April of this year. His schedule was pretty well filled, but that wasn't a huge issue as I knew I wanted to schedule it around the beginning of November, the only time that it is reasonably quiet at work. The date of surgery was Friday October 27th, just under two weeks ago. 

I was a bit nervous about the surgery. There are of course various ways in which the surgery might not be completely successful, but honestly I was more worried about the extremely small chance of something going completely wrong and never waking up again. As I have mentioned briefly elsewhere, anxiety has become a part of my life in the past year, and as much as I "knew" I was going to be alright, I couldn't entirely quiet that inner voice. 

I arrived at the hospital at 5:45am. The next hour and a half was prep work, and meeting all the people who would be participating in the surgery. Along with all the other questions, everyone confirmed my name, date of birth, and which hip I was replacing. When my surgeon came by, just to make triply sure that there was no last minute error, he initialed my right hip. Everyone was kind, considerate and professional. I particularly remember being put at ease by Tim the anesthesiologist assistant, but everyone did their part in providing a calming presence. 

I was wheeled into surgery at 7:30, and I thought, "the sun isn't even up yet, and it is already showtime." Once in the surgical suite, they had me sit up on the edge of the gurney. I was already on an IV of some sort, but the next step was an epidural. Tim had me bend forward to spread out my spine a bit and give him access for the shot. A nurse was there in front of me to catch me if for some reason I pitched forward.  I know we chatted and joked with each other. The jokes are lost to the ether, but I remember feeling good about the team around me. I was surrounded by caring and helping hands.

Then they transferred me to the operating table. The table had these separate sections for the legs so they could be moved independently. After I was settled, someone pounded a couple of pegs into the table, a little too close to the crotch for comfort. "Be careful with that hammer, please!" Less than thirty seconds after that, I was out like a light. No need to count back from 100. They had warned me it was possible that I might come around a bit, or hear some loud noises during the surgery, but thankfully my sleep was deep. 

I woke up in a hallway with another nurse at my side to take care of me as I came around. Memory is a little fuzzy at this point, but I may have had something to drink, and maybe there was Jello? I do remember her asking me about my pain levels, me saying I was doing OK, but her reading the winces in my face and giving me something more for my pain. I am sure this helped with the pain, but it definitely made me nauseated. 

After maybe an hour or so, I was taken to Physical Therapy. There they took me through the exercises I would be doing for the next six weeks. Then it was (already?) time to stand up. They had me use my walker to shuffle around the room and the hallway. Then they had me go up and down two steps. Pretty incredible that they have you up so quickly after surgery. Still hard to wrap my brain around it. 

Martha, my friend and neighbor met me at the PT stage. She was there to listen in, being my designated "coach" for the first week of recovery. She is a retired nurse, so along with being a clearer set of ears for all the instructions, she was another professional along the way looking out for me. After taking my wheelchair ride to my car, she drove me to her and her sister's house where I would spend the first week or so of my recovery.

I remember from the days when I was looking for my first car, a Ford Mustang, and then later when I was buying a Harley, that many of the ads noted, "All the numbers match!" The vehicles were worth more money if they had all original parts, and all the serial numbers matched. I didn't much care about that back then, since I was buying the vehicle(s) to actually use, not as an investment. Now my body has some after-market parts, and I suppose I don't much care that it is no longer a stock version either. Just hoping the improvements will keep me on the road a little longer. 

September 16, 2023

A less crooked smile

"You don't strike me as someone who is overly concerned about how his teeth look."

This was what someone at my dentist's office said earlier this year. I have told this story to a few people, and everyone has been a bit offended for me. But it was a true statement, and I took it as such. They knew their audience I suppose. 

My teeth have always been a bit janky, with two teeth half hiding behind my two front teeth, but it has never been anything that I cared much about. When I was a kid, braces were suggested, but it wasn't for anything functional, strictly cosmetic. I of course never fully understood what the money situation was growing up, but I felt like there wasn't money to spend on something that wasn't strictly necessary. 

And of course who wants braces as a kid. 

At the dentist earlier this year, they told me that my bite was putting too much pressure on a single tooth, and it was destined to crack. The two options were a crown, which would be a band-aid, or get braces to fix the underlying problem. Since this seems to be the year to fix what is broken, and kicking the can down the road to "future me" to deal with doesn't seem to ever work out, braces was the decision. 

Of course things have changed dramatically since I was a kid. No longer would there be a mouth full of metal, but rather plastic trays that snap into place. You have likely heard of Invisalign, which is a brand name for this sort of system, and I have something similar made by SureSmile. 

My treatment would be a series of 30 trays, each worn for two weeks, with each successive set moving my teeth a bit farther from their original state, each successive set moving my teeth a bit closer to the final alignment. You are supposed to wear the trays for 20 - 22 hours a day, only taking them out to eat. 

30 trays times 2 weeks equals almost fifteen months of dental fun. I just put in tray 16 this week, so I am halfway there. 

I can't wait for it to be over. 

Not because I am excited to see my new smile (see above about not caring what my teeth look like). Not because my mouth looks funny with the braces in, or that my speech is particularly effected (this tech is pretty great in both respects). No, I just find it an annoyance every single day. Not a huge deal each day, it is just always there, being annoying. 

For the first few days of every two week cycle, the trays are very difficult to snap in or remove. At my first appointment when the dentist/professional was trying to get those first trays in, it was a major ordeal, and I just imagined fifteen months of this pain-in-the-assery of me trying to do it my amateur self, and I did not take it well. And of course your teeth hurt as they are being pressured to move where they don't want to.

And honestly I just want to be able to sip my cup of coffee leisurely at my desk without being on a timer to floss, brush, snap my trays back in.

Again, small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, and tiny in the medical complaints department, but to spend $5,600 (adult dental insurance is near worthless) to do something that is annoying, where you don't feel like your life will be any better for it, while people who care about teeth are so excited for you...ugh.

Am I vaguely curious what my teeth will look like in the end - sure. Am I excited about wearing braces at night forever, because apparently your teeth still want to go back to square one - no. Was it the right decision - yes. I trust and like my dentist, and slapping band-aids on problems is not a long-term solution.

Will I continue to be annoyed, and miss those slowly sipped cups of coffee for the next seven months - yes, yes I will.

September 10, 2023

A flesh wound

 2023 has been the year of the medical professional. Thankfully nothing life threatening, but there have been more appointments and procedures than in any other time of my life. And more bills. 

  • One thing has me feeling like an old man.
  • One thing has be feeling like a late-blooming teenager.
  • Others, I am guessing, are more of an average experience these days. 

We'll start in the middle. One of the average ones. What is going on right now. 

I have had a growth on my neck for the last few years. At an appointment after it showed up, it was agreed that we would keep an eye on it. This year, it seemed like it was getting bigger, and was feeling itchy. The lump was sliced off, sent to a lab, and was determined to be a basal cell carcinoma. 

From my limited understanding and Googling, basal cell carcinoma is a cancer, the most common skin cancer, and the most common type of cancer overall. However, it is not one that spreads quickly, and is not generally a concern as long as it doesn't go ignored for a very long time. But it does need to be taken care of. The lump that was taken off showed cancer cells all the way to the edges, so there was more left on my neck to be addressed. Another appointment was made for this past Tuesday. 

More brief Googling. 

I had guessed that I was going to have what is called a Mohs procedure. In this procedure, skin is removed a layer at at a time, each one being analyzed for cancer cells. If that layer has some, you keep going until you get to one that doesn't. Instead, my version was having one removal procedure, large enough to feel that it was safe I suppose. This is likely much more efficient, time and cost effective, etc., but it was still a bit of a surprise. 

The procedure itself was fine, though the torque of the stitches as they closed things up seemed like a lot. They put the chunk of flesh in a jar for testing, and let me take a peek at it. The size of it was even more of a surprise. For a lump that was smaller than the nail on my pinky finger, the amount they took looked a couple of inches long, and about 3/4 of an inch deep. They said the scar may line up with a ridge in my neck, which was a great relief for my future modeling career. 

The test came back on Friday that showed that they got it all. Recovery has been a little painful, but most mostly just annoying. I couldn't turn my head for a number of days, so had to turn my whole body like a robot. It is also difficult to change out the dressing on a part of your body you can't see. I have become very good at using mirrors to cut my own hair, but somehow I could not get the bandages flipped around the right way looking side-eyed in a mirror. 

Pictures of the before, during and after (but not of the sample they took) are below. I don't think anything is too graphic, but the stitched incision is a little gross, so if this not your thing, you can click the back button now. 













After the lump was removed

First round mostly healed, on to the next

A day after removal

Five days after

Get those bumps checked out.