Monday, November 27, 2017

Peripatetic, with ear pain

At The Bean in Chicago with Ohioans
After the Mohs surgery on my ear , I had it in my mind that the next day I was going to drive to Needham, sleep over at Margaret's, and fly from nearby Logan Airport to Chicago early the next morning for the American Association of Journalists and Authors conference on non-fiction freelancing and content marketing. 

But when the anesthesia wore off, I was in so much pain that I had to take heavy-duty pain meds and therefore could barely wake up. A friend said he would drive me to the airport early Friday (a week ago) for my 8 a.m. flight. I was so zonked that I don't even know what time I put on my alarm, but it wasn't what we agreed on. I called him and said, "You sound like you're in a tunnel." 

"That's because I'm on my way to your house," he said.

You never saw me move so fast.

I would have to power through the conference. It wasn't good timing. I hadn't expected so much pain.

But I made it through the one-day event with help from oxycodone every four hours. The goal was to connect with new editors and by extension get new stories to write; I think it was a success but only time will tell.

I also wanted to learn more about content marketing. For some journalists like myself, it's hard to make the leap. Here is one definition: "It's a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services."

After dinner with Mieke in Chicago
As a bonus, I had dinner with an old friend from the newspaper (actually a cool young friend) and made friends at the hotel, spending some time getting to know a friendly couple from Ohio. I had expected to go with a friend and had therefore booked a couple of extra days. But it didn't work out, so it was fun wandering around Chicago one day with my new friends. I also took the fascinating Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise  on its last day of the season and went back to run along the river at twilight.

I flew back to Boston Tuesday, took an Uber to Margaret's, had a nice dinner, went to bed, and got up and got a ride to Dana-Farber for the light therapy on my blood (ECP) on Wednesday. Katie, having flown into Boston, got herself to Dana-Farber. I scheduled a ride to pick me up at 5 and take us back to South Hadley.

Katie got there earlier than expected, so I called the dispatcher at 4 to say I was done and to ask if a driver was available earlier. She answered in the negative. So we went down at 5. At around 5:15 when he wasn't there, I called the dispatcher again. She said that he was in front and would call me. 5:25, still no driver. 

I don't exactly remember how we connected at around 5:30. He said he had been there since 3:30 and had been calling and calling. Katie looked at the number. It turned out he had transposed two of the digits. It remained a mystery why the dispatcher hadn't notified us that he was available and why she hadn't checked in with him as to what number he was calling. 

Centerpiece by Katie
That left little time to prepare for Thanksgiving, which was to be at my house the next afternoon. But family and friends, along with inspiration from my mother, helped get it done. I had forgotten to get a centerpiece. Katie said that she would be like her grandma and go out to the yard and gather the makings...pine cones, branches, leaves, etc. She went for a run and came back with a few extra things. During my dog walk, I got a few branches for the finishing touch. 

From start to finish, it was a success. 

As I do every Thanksgiving, I wrote my donor Denise, and thanked her for my life.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ear today, pain tomorrow

Glad that the procedure is over 
Yesterday I had another Mohs surgery, this one to remove a basal cell carcinoma from an inside part of my ear. It is the area above your earlobe, the little bowl that your finger might inadvertently scratch. I wasn't sure what it was called until the nurse  at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital said it was the concha.

I was surprised to get a skin cancer there, but they said it is not unusual. I've had so many Mohs that I lost track. This one made me more worried, due to the anticipated pain and weirdness of having a needle stuck into an area with so little skin.

The resident who helped on my intake said that Dr. Schmults has her ways of relaxing patients.  He looked around the exam room and waved his hand and said "this is part of it." He was talking about the classical music playing. It was indeed beautiful and relaxing.

She started out by zapping some pre-cancerous thingies on my neck and hands. She also said to apply Effudex to a spot on my nose, and to do it for a month. It's going to turn my nose red, so maybe I can entertain some children.

When the time came,  the doctor covered my head with a sterile cloth.  Her application of the lidocaine was nothing to have worried about. She did little staccoto pricks that I could barely feel. I heard scraping and felt the pressure but no pain. We even chatted while she worked, and we came up with a potential story idea. She took my email and said she would send me info on a doctor who might make a good story.  She laughed that we were multi-tasking.

Then I waited about 45 minutes while she checked the tissue under a microscope to see if all the margins were clear. Knowing about this waiting period, I had brought two New Yorkers. But the nurse and I talked almost the whole time.

It turns out there was a little bit still left. So this time the nurse numbed me up and the doctor went in and chipped away some cartilage. It took a long time for the nurse to pack the ear up. The good news is that I got a steristrip instead of stitches, so I won't have to take much time up for tennis. In a few days the big bandage can be removed.

Dr. Schmults gave me a prescription for Tyelonol #3 with codeine.  With a craving for a good reuben sandwich, I asked the friend who drove me if he wanted to go to Zaftigs Delicatessen. I also wanted to see my old block, nearby on Babcock Street. We had some good times in that Victorian house, notably group dinners on an old ping pong table in the dining room, running with house friends the short distance to the Charles River path and then running some more, going to Red Sox games, sunbathing on the roof, making new friends, having long discussions.

Old homestead where I lived when in grad school
For some reason when I give a plant a haircut my mind often turns to one of them, He had a big sunny room and many plants that he seemed to be always cutting back. He was quite the ladies' man. Sadly, when I bumped into one of those old roommates in the strangest place – the Kraft Family Blood Door Center – I learned that our friend had died.

My ear didn't immediately hurt. But when the numbing medicine wore off, it was a different story. It felt like a fiery rod was piercing into my brain. I took the Tylenol/Codeine and 10 mgs of oxycodone. The pain resolved, but over a period of a few hours, my skin began to itch. I looked it up and saw that itchy skin can be a side effect of codeine. So I took a Benadryl. The itch subsided, but I tossed and turned all night.

This morning, it took so long to wake up that it was afternoon before I could even function.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Look Ma, two hands. (Well, actually arms).

Two arms are better than one at ECP at Dana-Farber
The new machines for extracorporeal photopheresis, or ECP, at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber are faster than the ones used when I started getting my blood sunburned two years ago.

They are even faster, by almost an hour, if you use two arms instead of one. That's a substantial decrease in what is normally a three-hour procedure.

The nurses have broached the topic of going to two arms but I always chickened out, worried about the pain  or the loss of one free arm to use the computer or try to read a book. Yesterday, though, my nurse, Marc, sweet-talked me into it so fast that before I knew it, I had a needle in both arms. He said we could just try it and if I didn't like it we could always go back to one.

He said everyone uses two arms.

"Larry, do you use two arms?" I asked my fellow ECP-er sitting in the chair diagonally across from me. Turns out he only uses one, but Marc wasn't deterred. With a big smile and joking about not trusting the nurse taking care of the patient on my left, he got the first needle in on the left arm so smoothly I hardly felt it. While I was complimenting him, he put another needle in my right arm. And I had two arms connected before I knew it. I had taken an oxycodone right before I came in, so that probably helped. It also, as per usual, made me more chatty.

"Marry me," I said to Marc.

He had said he would fix it so that I could use one arm, but that didn't really happen. The time went by quickly anyway, what with chatting with the nurses and talking to the two fellows who stopped by.

I had had a good ride in, following another good one two weeks before.

My only issue with Angel from Serene Transportation on Wednesday was that when I asked him to turn the radio down, he did it such a smidgen that I hardly noticed. (Like maybe a kid would have done.) It was hard to hear when I had to make a call. Then he took the sound out of the back speaker and said he realized the problem was with the speaker nearest him not working. So maybe while I thought he was messing with me, he was just trying to hear the radio on his end.

I brought him a couple of snacks for the way home. He said it had been a long day of driving.His rear end was killing him. My arms were hurting so I know how he felt. I thought of taking another oxy but instead took the edge off with Tylenol and a bowl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

The previous week, I had the Russian driver Sergei from the bad trip that caused me to miss my appointment. It wasn't his fault – the scheduler had screwed me by putting in another patient who lived way out of the way – and I could tell how bad he felt.

Two weeks later I was coming down the sidewalk after a quick walk when I noticed a car in my driveway. It was 15 minutes before my scheduled pick-up time. But it was Sergei, who said he didn't want anything to go wrong this time. Nothing went wrong. What a relief! (Amazing how something as outwardly easy as a ride to Boston could seem so fraught with peril.)

Today I played my first Friday morning round robin of the year at the Enfield Tennis Club. You do three rounds with different partners, keeping your own score, for about 45 minutes each round. At the end, they add up points. The one with the highest number gets the prize: a can of tennis balls.

I won 5-3 with one partner, 5-3 with the next, and then tied 4-4 when we ran out of time. It was relaxing fun tennis with talk in between games about things such as the first mice in someone's basement (a mouse now in mouse heaven).

My slice light was on. (Thank you George.) I got a lot of balls at the net, playing with two different people who set me up nicely. I told my first partner, a longtime tennis friend, that if this was hockey, the announcer would credit her with the assist after I got a good angle at the net. (Channeling my father.) Using my poor imitation of Joe's announcer voice, I demonstrated what that would sound like.

At one point I thought I might get the can of balls, but it was not to be.

Afterwards, I thought about how at one time, I wasn't strong or steady enough to play in the Friday round robin. It is more competitive than on Wednesday, and I heard back then that only one person wanted to play with me. If this resembles playground talk, it's because at any level, people want to be on the winning team. This was hurtful but I saw their point. (Thank you my friend with whom I won at The Districts while playing with pneumonia for being such a good cheerleader. That part of my Lives essay is near the end.)

Obviously I don't really care about the balls. I'm just happy to feel good out there.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thinking about the things that hit me

View from the Hudson River bike and jogging path, uptown
It hit me that a week ago I was jogging on the path along the Hudson River and thinking what a beautiful place it is. I jogged (slowly as per usual these days) from my friend's house on 110th Street and Riverside down to the 79th Street Boat Basin and paused to look down at the boats and up at the Boat Basin Cafe, thinking it would be a great place to go some day. I stopped to stretch and look around.

It was about four miles of feeling so-so. I was thinking about the upcoming Hot Chocolate Run to Benefit Safe Passage and about how last year when I said to myself that it was "just" a 5-K, I didn't know it would be hilly. And about how when I finished I was so bent over that someone asked if I needed medical attention. And how as you get older, maybe the definition of a good run changes from feeling fabulous to other things: enjoying the scenery, accomplishing or even overshooting your goal (I had meant to do just three miles), getting at least part of the good feeling that you used to get, and being in decent enough shape to run with tennis friends to support the mission of Safe Passage and the hard work of its director, our teammate Marianne Winters. I was thinking that it was good to be in New York on a beautiful day and that it was good to be looking forward to a dinner in the neighborhood with Katie.

79th Street Boat Basin
It was the northern part of the path where the Isis-inspired truck attack took place. When I'm in New York I often run on the southern end near where this happened. It hits you when you can see the whole deadly scene clearly in your mind. And when you think of how New Yorkers, while mourning, went about their business, and how the Halloween parade that went on as usual "was a beautiful example of that failed attempt” to sow fear, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who marched with Mayor Bill de Blasio, said at a news conference on Wednesday. The governor’s remarks were a reminder of how terror attacks can elevate otherwise ordinary events into symbols of resilience, the Times reporter wrote.

I can relate to that way of being, and that is why I still always say I'm a New Yorker even though I haven't lived there for, well, for quite a while.

Also in the week's news, it hit me that because journalists at two small New York news outlets decided to unionize, their billionaire owner shut the outlets down out of spite. He was objecting to "a few dozen modestly paid employees who collectively bargain for better working conditions."

According to the story: "And, as a final thumb in the eye, he initially pulled the entire site’s archives down (they are now back up), so his newly unemployed workers lost access to their published work. Then, presumably, he went to bed in his $29 million apartment."

This sentence especially hit me: "The careers of most journalists feature constant uncertainty and heartbreak, interspersed with periods of life-affirming work that you hope make it all worthwhile."

Some people ask why I am still doing it. Some of us who lost our jobs and who stayed in the field say, "because we don't know how to do anything else."

The life of a freelancer amplifies the frustration because unless you have an "anchor client" (which I hope to someday find), you are always looking for your next job. Like reporters who I imagine do the same in many newsrooms, I complained bitterly (my father's words) about this and that, about my editor's instructions to go out and "find people who..." (fill in the blank with a variety of person-on-the street or in-the-mall questions), about the same event that had to be covered with a fresh perspective every year, about not being given enough space, about deadline pressure and story quotas, and so on.

But I would do it again. And am still going after those good stories that you have to dig out as a freelancer.

I also got literally hit by the driver who sideswiped me when I was driving to The Literacy Project in Amherst on Tuesday. It was a perfect way (not) to come down from my perfect New York weekend with Katie. I thought it was going to be a hit and run because the other driver kept going. A Good Samaritan saw what had happened, three police cars came, the other driver came back, my witness supported my story, and nobody got hurt, etc., but it is a real pain in the rear to deal with.

The insurance company didn't want to pay for my rental until my car was in the shop. So yesterday I drove with no driver's side mirror and did not feel safe at all, especially crossing lanes in the highway. The frame of the mirror, dangling from a wire, banged up against the door.

I emailed the insurance rep and said the magic, and very true, words: I do not feel safe driving this car and I'm afraid of having an accident. He emailed right back to get the rental. Yesterday a lovely woman from Enterprise came to pick me up. We had to go to Fuller Road to fill out the paperwork. Then I came back and now I have the rental and feel safe again. It seemed like a good part of the past few days were taken up going about getting the police report and the estimate and going to the insurance agency.

I thought about how it could have been worse had the other driver strayed just a little further into my lane, and I thought about how I could have been on the part of the bike path where the terrorist attack occurred.

But I'm here, in one piece (more or less).

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Quick and pitch perfect trip to New York

Spot at 112th Street
I liked the Dear Evan Hansen cast album that Katie played for me, but I didn't totally get it until we saw the Tony-Award-winning show last week. I am as in love as the next person with the soon-to-depart star, Ben Platt. And am grateful once again that my theater scout is up to date on what's great. And that she got the tickets (a teeny bit over market price) for before Platt departs on Nov. 19.

Hilton Als wrote in the New Yorker, "Ben Platt’s characterization of Evan is almost beyond belief, one of those supersonic performances that make you sit up in your chair and wonder if you’re actually hearing and seeing what he’s doing. "

This wonderful show of course will go on without him, with the rest of the cast is staying on. It will be interesting to hear how his replacements do.

Outside the Music Box Theater
Katie and I had arranged to meet in New York on Thursday, the day of the show, with Katie flying in from Minneapolis. Due to the pouring rain, I dismissed the idea of driving part way and taking a train from Fairfield. It seemed easier to drive straight in despite whatever road conditions I might encounter; lugging around my stuff and switching trains and going to and from a station seemed too much. (Yes, for some reason even for two days I end up with too much stuff.)

Driving in the rain wasn't fun, but right around when I entered New York, the skies started to clear. We were staying at a friend's beautiful Upper West Side apartment, so I came down the West Side highway instead of how I usually come in, from the east. As I was approaching, Katie called from our agreed meeting place, Tom's Restaurant of Seinfeld fame. I made one pass around the block, and, lo and behold, a car pulled out in front of me, opening a beautiful spot that was "good for tomorrow" on 112th Street between Riverside and Broadway. It was a little more than two blocks from where we were staying.

Katie, Serena and me on subway
Free parking in New York. What more do I need to say? My own parking karma gets me a lot of good spaces, but I also think my father opens them up for me. So I looked above and said, "Thank you, Dad."

I walked about a block and met Katie at the counter at Tom's. She gave me a present: a package of tissues for the tears I was sure to shed at the evening's performance.

Last row seats didn't matter
We had a few hours. Our cousin Serena came over with her beautiful baby. Then we got on the subway and got off at different stops, Serena to go to her apartment and Katie and I to our pre-theater standby, Joe Allen's. I have to admit that all the times going there, I didn't notice that the posters on the walls were from Broadway flops, hence, the Joe Allen infamous flop wall. Katie pointed this out.

Over at the Music Box Theater, you could feel the anticipation coming from the people on the cancellation line and from those going in. We had back row seats, but it didn't matter. The audience applauded like crazy when Platt came onto the stage. It didn't take long for me to understand what the fuss has been about. I was as entranced as the woman next to us who kept saying, "What a beautiful voice."

That night we had musical-induced insomnia, staying up late eating cheesecake from Junior's and looking up all things Ben Platt...including one of the Pitch Perfect movies with only Ben Platt scenes (Platt Perfect).

We went back to South Hadley on Saturday via Fairfield, where we stopped for bagels and a nice visit with Nell, Ben and Callen.  It was hard to give up that parking space, but we felt gratified that we were making someone else feel good because of the smile on the face of the lucky driver who asked if we were going out.

On the way back we listened to the cast album. I also bought it so I could hear it on my phone. You have to be vigilant about overload if you listen to the same thing over and over. But I'm not there yet.