22 January 2017

22 January 1970

Forty seven years ago, on 22 January 1970, a milestone in commercial aviation was achieved when a Boeing 747 completed its first revenue flight for its first customer, Pan American World Airways. The arrival of the newly crowned "Queen of the Skies," as she will forever be remembered, at London Heathrow opened up the world to the masses in a way that could not have been anticipated. Suddenly, hundreds of people at once could traverse the globe in a matter of hours. Overnight, the world became a much smaller place.

As a certified airline dork, Pan Am aficionado, and world traveler, this is a special day. My first trans-Atlantic flight took place fourteen years after that first commercial flight and it was between those same two cities - New York JFK and London Heathrow - on a Pan Am 747 that looked every day of its fourteen years. I did not sleep a wink on that flight, as I wanted to take in every second on board the legendary Queen. Sure, she looked like she'd been rode hard and put away wet, but this was Pan Am on one its marquee routes. Sitting in Economy that night, I was a few rows back from the vaunted Clipper Class and I remember seeing through the occasional break in the red curtain that divided our cabins, the passengers being served multi-course meals, reclining back in their seats further than I thought possible, and saying to myself, "One day I'll travel that way."

I've been very fortunate to travel that way many times ever since. I've flown in the very front of that plane, in its upper deck, and even in a middle seat in the very last row (let's never, ever, ever speak of that atrocity again). The 747 made the world smaller for me. She has carried me to places like this:

London, Frankfurt, Chennai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Manila, Sydney, Tokyo,
Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City

As she carried me to all those places, I could not have imagined all the things that I would learn and experience. When I disembarked from that first transatlantic journey at 17, I had no idea that London would show me what a truly global city it is. In Tokyo, I discovered tastes that I never dreamed would cross my palette. In Manila, I discovered a people so full of kindness that I remember the lessons they taught me to this day. In Hong Kong, I found that a city truly is a living thing and there is nothing as vibrant as that great city. In Chennai, I discovered a people so layered in mystery and beauty that I still have difficulty articulating the experience to this day. In Sydney, I reveled in meat pies and did so with some of the friendliest, most adventerous people I've ever known. As I've traveled the world on the 747, I discovered a beautiful, diverse world full of stunning vistas, amazing cities, and people who prove that we are far more alike than we are different.

That lesson, that we are far more alike than we are different, is one I am trying hard to remember as my own country is as polarized as it has ever been. It's amazing what a smile and a kind gesture can bring you when you are in another country and not able to speak the same language. It's been incredible to see what happens when you express a bit of interest in someone else's culture when traveling. Some of the most amazing meals of my life have happened by asking simple questions in a local market. Language and culture barriers collapse over the joy of shared meals. 

I am forever grateful for the experiences I've had in this world, many of which were as a result of a flight on a 747. The airplane was, and is, amazing, but its the people in those places that plane carried me that have enriched my life. They taught me that our differences aren't so vast and that this world is  a gift.

I need to remember that lesson right now and apply it to my fellow countrymen. Something tells me we're going to need to remember that something awful in the coming months and years.

15 January 2017

I fell and I couldn't get up - Another entry in the "Learn from My Mistakes" series

She fell but she had LifeAlert, so she could get up.
After a great and very busy week in one of my favorite places, Mexico City, I was looking forward to a relaxing night at home with the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML this past Friday. I'd been home about two hours when I realized I needed to get something out of my work bag, which was down in my basement office. As I started down our steep wooden, carpet-free stairs, I gave nary a thought to the fact that I was wearing a pair of socks that are all kinds of slippery. This was, with apologies to the great Ron Burgundy, "a bad choice."

As I hit the third to the last step, both feet flew out from under me with a force not seen since Kris Kardashian abandoned all her morals as a parent and sold out her children and I sailed over the last three steps and slammed onto the floor with my back taking the full brunt of the impact. Mercifully, I didn't hit my head and with my lungs struggling to recover from the wind that was knocked out of them, I managed to scream out a stream of mild profanities as the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML came charging down the stairs to see if I was dead. Dead I was not, but pain I was in. I lay on the floor writhing for about 15 minutes before I managed to get up. Once up, every step sent daggers of pain up and down my back, so I decided to make my way upstairs and crawl into bed.

Once in bed, everything hurt. Pain was radiating all over the place. Every movement was a heaping slice of agony. I took a couple of Aleve, which alleviated nothing. A heating pad, even at its lowest setting served only as an invitation to burns on my back. At this point, it was time to throw in the pain towel and try to sleep. Sleep was furtive (my Fitbit showed I was restless 28 times through the night) and at around 530AM, after hearing me cry out in pain yet again, my wife decided it was time to go an urgent care facility. Getting out of bed was an act of contortion that any circus freak would have been proud of. As I finally stood, it was clear I was going to need a spotter. After a couple of steps, my legs gave out and I was down on the floor, now literally unable to move. Like the elderly stars of the LifeAlert commercials, I was not getting up but I had no monitor to push to get someone to get me up. As SML pondered our limited options, she decided it was time to call 911. She called them, explained our dilemma and asked them to not roll up with sirens and lights blaring. Because who needs that drama at 6AM on a Saturday.

In our little town, 911 calls are pretty exciting because we had two policemen in our home before the paramedics arrived. They were an interesting lot, these two. One took the role of determining if I had been drinking, thus causing the fall. He didn't seem to believe my slippery sock story. The other quizzed SML to determine if she had pushed me. Seriously. They were delightful, in the same way Donald J. Trump is delightful.

The paramedics, on the other hand, were great. I was so embarrassed by the position that I was in, both literally and figuratively, and they could not have been cooler. Because of the narrowness of our hallways, a gurney wasn't an option to get me out of the house, so they went with a stair chair. Once they determined they could move me without exacerbating my injury, it took the two paramedics and SML to get me up. I'll admit I hollered like an angry stuck pig as they got me into that chair. They got me downstairs pretty fast and into a gurney. As they got me into the back of their "rig," the paramedic who was driving was excited to tell me that this was the newest rig in the fleet. As far as paramedic rigs go and given my vast (none) knowledge of them, I will tell you I was impressed. As we drove to John Dempsey Hospital (my choice Cantonites - I like that hospital), the attending paramedic took my blood pressure multiple times as it was skyrocketing as they moved me and he was glad to see it lowering.

Once we got to the ER, we were turned over to the hospital staff and shenanigans began. A nurse came in and asked me to put on one of those breezy, flappy hospital gowns. This meant two things for me A) sitting up and 2) taking my fleece over my head and those were two things I was in no condition to do. I told her in no uncertain terms that I wouldn't be doing that. She said, "Oh you're the back guy. It's OK." Darn right it was OK. The ER attending physician came in and said I'd be going to X-ray shortly and then a nurse breezed in with Percocet and a muscle relaxant. Unfortunately for me and the X-ray tech, they took me to X-ray before either pill had kicked in. Going from the gurney to the X-ray table was an exercise in controlled rage. Then when the poor X-ray tech told me I had to roll over onto my left side, to say that I was displeased would be the understatement of the year. Mercifully, she was able to get it done very quickly. I was wiped out at that point and the Percocet was kicking in, so once back in the ER, I was in and out sleep. The doctor returned and told us that the X-rays didn't show a break and that I was, and this is my interpretation because he kept talking about my injury in words that sounded like names of superheroes (lots of words like echo, exo, and skelton), pretty banged up internally and that I was lucky that it wasn't far. At this point, I felt like a total spastic that I had to have the paramedics get me out of my house. He assured me it was a valid injury and that the muscle spasms I was having, and going to have, were heaping piles o'agony. Tell me about it...

So what have we learned from all this:

  • Wearing hospital socks with the grips on the bottom is now a requirement in the house
  • Carpet runners for the stairs will happen and soon
  • Percocet takes far too long to kick in and pales in comparison to the glory of Dilaudid
  • It is stupid to wait hours to get yourself checked after you've hurt yourself

Yep, that's me in the back of the Canton rig

Hospital Thug Uniform 
Learn from my mistakes people, learn from my mistakes.

08 January 2017

In its 10th year

I was feeling nostalgic the other day and went back to my first post here in the Den - December 15, 2007 - and realized I am now in my tenth year of blogging.

I guess there's something to be said for that, right? I'll let you be the judge of what it is that should be said. Somehow I've managed to stick with this little piece of the interwebs longer than I've ever stayed with one company. We've never lived in one place longer than seven years since we've been married and yet this blog has managed to enter its tenth year.

As it enters its tenth year, I'm taking a bit of a different approach to how I post here in the Den. In the last couple of years, I felt compelled to get at least ten posts in a month. There was no reason for it other than my own self-imposed goal. That goal fell apart when I took a hiatus (thank you  obscene cruise ship internet fees) last year as the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML took a much-needed vacation. Once we returned, I found it hard to get back in the groove. None of your worlds fell apart and neither did mine as a result of my less frequent posting. So this year, I'm not going to worry about  a certain number of monthly posts. I'm going to write and post as I see fit. The content is going to change much either, so you've been warned.

One thing that I do hope will improve is the writing itself. Inspired by a conversation with two friends (one over lunch in Dallas and another while we were back in Chicago last month), I've decided to pursue some writing courses. I'm starting with a seminar with the Gotham Writers Workshop next month and we'll see where it leads. I'm kind of excited, if I'm honest.

Here's to seeing what this tenth year will bring!

07 January 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth

With apologies to famed author Jules Verne (but none to Brendan Fraser who starred in the remake of the film by the same name of Verne's book. Because Brendan Fraser), I'm going to recount my own "Journey to the Center of the Earth" from earlier this week. How did I get there, you ask? Well, if I'm honest, I didn't. Instead, I had my first colonoscopy and this seemed like an apt euphemism.

If you don't follow me on the Facebook or the Twitter, you would have missed the fact that I was embarking on this adventure (thanks for that little belated gift, 50th birthday). Because I have a particularly low shame threshold, I either posted or live tweeted as much of the shenanigans as I could. There was a reason for that, I promise, and I'll get to that.

That said, I'm going to cut to the chase. The procedure itself, having "a camera inserted into your rectum" as my 12 year old doctor (seriously...he was the Indian version of 'Doogie Howser' - I have suits in my closet that are older than him) reminded me as I was splayed out in the prep room, was an absolute breeze. Primarily because of the delightful dose of Michael Jackson's favorite sleepy time med, Propofol. Once I was wheeled into the procedure room and I was splayed out differently (on my left side - apparently that's the appropriate angle of attack), the nurse anesthetist said to me, "Ready for a nap?" and like that, I was out. I was so out that I didn't mind in the least that I was being bored like an oil drill fracking the Oklahoma countryside. Before I knew it, I was in Recovery asking the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML how long she'd been there. I asked her this repeatedly. It was then that the attending nurse said I'd been very funny as I came out of the Jackson Juice haze. This concerns me for a host of reasons. After a post-procedure snack of water and a blueberry protein bar (nothing but the best at this facility), I walked out and since I'd not eaten in nearly 40 hours, we went to lunch. That was it. Seriously.

The procedure really was a breeze. What was awful was the prep and by prep, I mean Suprep. Created in the darkest bowel (pun absolutely intended) of Satan's Pharmacy on the Seventh Ring of Hell, this two bottle solution of the foulest tasting concoction is meant to clean out your tender colon faster than a drug-fueled all you can eat binge on Jack In The Box tacos. Marketed as "berry flavored," the clear translucent liquid cleverly hides its foulness. Let me be clear that it is not berry flavored. It is berry scented and this difference, as our mentally unstable, pathologically allergic to honesty President Elect would say, is "yuge!"The Berry Council, if there is such a thing, should sue for defamation of character because this stuff is as noxious as it gets. To call it gross is an offense to things that are really gross (the cast of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" come to mind). I managed to choke down the first dose without much of a fight and then I waited for the output. Within an hour, the output burst forth like a firehose gushing wildly with no ability to turn it off. As a result, this was my view for more time than I'd like to admit:

After more of this than I care to recall, it was time for round two of Satan's cocktail. This one was rough. It took me more than ten minutes to choke it down. I chased each gritty, heinous sip with a generous gulp of water and two different flavors of Gatorade. I may or may not have shed a tear during this process as well. I need to point out that my son, who had to go through this experience in a 'clinic' in southern Mexico, was laughing riotously the whole time. Honestly, I can't imagine what he went through so I'm glad he could laugh at mine. Anyway, with round two barely down, its desired effects went into overdrive. It was past 10PM and I was terrified to go to sleep because given the speed with which this crap (again, pun intended) works, the likelihood of an in-bed tragedy was too high, so I stayed awake as long as I could. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML was literally lying next to a ticking time bomb and I, as the bomb, knew that, so sleep didn't come easily to either of us, once I decided the coast was clear for the upcoming journey to the center of the earth.

That journey, for me, yielded an excellent result. A clean bill of health for my colon was declared by the doctor (BONUS - this means none of that Suprep garbage for another five years!). It was good to know. As I read up in advance of the procedure, I learned that colon cancer ranks in the top three of cancer killers but it is one of the most preventable. It was then that I decided I would share as much of the process as I could; hence, the posts and Tweets. You'll be glad to now that my wife snatched my phone out of my hands as I was led away by some nurses to get prepped because she has a great deal more good sense than I. Yes, the prep is really a suckfest but the procedure is a snap. For those of you that have been afraid to get this done, DO IT! Get screened. In the rear end, you'll be glad you did.

To learn more about colon cancer and prevention, check out either of these two organizations:
Colon Cancer Alliance
Stop Colon Cancer Now

02 January 2017


Well, you're here now. 
It's Day Two of 2017 and not to put too fine a point on it, but we are all still here (well, with the exception of one Mariah Carey's singing career. Wait...has anyone checked in on Betty White?). Given how 2016 went for the world, this is saying a lot.

I've never been much for making grandiose New Year's resolutions, much less post them here in Den. I already share way too much in this space. I don't need to add a cavalcade of potential failures to the parade of TMI.

Speaking of TMI and in a glorious metaphor of the bellicose statements of our newly-elected Fuhrer President, I'm starting this year with my own personal version of #DrainTheSwamp. How, you ask? (Or if you're wise, don't ask.) With a 50 year old body, a fully funded HSA account, and doctor's orders, I'm getting my first colonoscopy this week. I can't think of a better way to welcome this new year! Based on all the feedback I've gotten on this procedure, I know that the prep will truly drain the swamp. At least someone is going to fulfill that promise.

I'm honestly relieved to be doing this. I've been doing some reading in advance of the procedure and I was disturbed to learn that colon cancer is in the top three of cancer killers. When caught early, it is 90% beatable. So I'm fine with some pre-procedure unpleasantness because there's a Propofol cocktail waiting at the end of that rainbow:

"You'll totally know why Michael Jackson loved the stuff."
Nurse who called me to explain the procedure. She
should be awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Talk about an endorsement! Quite a way to start the new year.

When you start your year off like that, it helps frame the year ahead. As I said earlier, I'm not much for resolutions. I am a lot more in favor of guidelines that will help frame the actions that I will take in a new year. For so many reasons, this quote is my 2017 touchstone:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil 
is for good man to do nothing."
Edmund Burke

Please don't sit idly by and let the world pass you by this year.
Do something. Raise your voice. Lend a hand. 
Do not let evil win.