A few thoughts post hip replacement surgery

hip

I’m eight days from a left hip replacement, and thought I’d share a few takeaways:

  • I waited too long.  My surgeon said, “No one ever says they had the surgery too soon.”  I’ll add my voice to that chorus.  I waited too long.  Easy to understand now that I’m on the other side of the surgery. Some days I felt almost, well, good. And up until the last month or so before my surgery, I could walk 4 or 5 miles, and row my wherry even further.  Of course, I was wrecked for the day afterwards, each step a painful event.  But I could convince myself when the pain was just a background whisper that maybe I was just being a pussy.  I wasn’t.
  • You’re getting maimed, but it is for a good cause. Really.   This is a grotesque surgery.  You’re willingly choosing to have your body maimed.  Of course it is for a good cause. The hope is less pain and increased mobility.  But don’t overlook the trauma to your body for this surgery.  It all hit me a couple of nights after surgery.  I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t get comfortable. My body just hurt….everywhere.  And I was almost overwhelmed with a need to, well, just cry.  The best way I can describe it is that my body was weeping: Weeping in response to the violations that had happened to it a few days earlier?  Weeping in response to the lost portion of my femur? Or maybe I was just suffering from the side-effects under anesthesia for so long?  I don’t know.  But as strange as it sounds, my body was weeping.  So I decided to join in.
  • Exploring pain.   Pain is personal.  Duh, right?  But I suspect most people think that people get their pain, so when they say they hurt and they hurt really bad, everyone else automatically knows how they feel. But it isn’t so.  My bad may not be anywhere near your bad.  And I may empathize with what you may be feeling or going through, but I can’t feel what you’re going through.  If the worst pain you have ever experienced is a paper cut, then your physical pain perspective is incredibly limited.  A paper cut can hurt, but for someone hacking sugar cane with a machete, cuts and scrapes are an hourly occurrence and probably don’t even get noticed.   It might take losing a finger to get their attention, and come close to what the other person felt with a paper cut. Over time, I’d gotten used to my chronic hip pain. It was never at a static level, climbing and falling without reason on some occasions, and then spiking after some activity.  I resented the limitations of my hip, and up until the end, I was willing to put up with cost after I’d gone mountain biking, rowing, or walking with my wife. But by the end, even that cost was becoming more than I had the energy or will to deal with.  Most of the time, however, the pain was a background wind that I’d become accustomed to, and leaned into without even thinking.  But after the surgery, one of the things I first noticed was that the chronic noise of my arthritis was gone. Even after the pain killer in my joint wore off, it remained quiet.  Of course, it was replaced by the trauma of the surgery, but even that was less than the pain I had felt at times from my worn out hip. For the first time in years, my hip was quiet.
  • Pain killers. Pain killers have a cost.  Pick your poison. Tylenol is hard on your kidney; ibuprofen is tough on your liver. Or is it the other way around?  Opiods are in a class by themselves.  The sooner you can get off the, the better. I managed to avoid the Oxy, except for the pill I took Wednesday night when my body was grieving.  But be careful with even the OTC stuff.  Make ice your friend, if you can.
  • Find a really good surgeon who does plenty of hip replacements.  The joke goes like this:  What do you call the person who graduates first in his or her medical school class?  Doctor.  What do you call the person who graduates last. . . yeah, they get called doctor, too.  So find a good one.
  • Sleep is good. I had given up on ever feeling rested. I had completely lost hope. Pathetic, huh?  But that’s the way it was. I would wake five, six or more times a night. There would always be a time early morning when the ache in my hip, knee and lower leg would have me wrestling with myself and eventual drive me out of bed.  I tried different rooms, the Jesus Prayer, even copious amounts of Vodka. Nothing helped. I didn’t want to get hooked on pills.  I was stuck.  Pain is a pernicous teacher, and a real bastard. I can see what sleep deprivation can be such an effective tool of torture. I would be a coward. But now I am sleeping through the night.  And sleeping more deeply.  My spouse doesn’t disturb my sleep, and my dreams have changed from fragments into nighttime stories.  The ache behind my eyes is gone.  And inside, I’m just feeling, well, an “ahhhh” of relief.
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Stupid Is As Stupid Does

cropduster

Forrest Gump had it right.

Sometimes it can be so obviously stupid there’s no excuse.  And if you’re lucky, you get a wake up call with nothing worse than a good scare.

Like the time years ago when I was cruising down what I thought was deserted rural highway, driving an SUV with no brakes.

There it was. My first mistake. Driving a vehicle with no brakes. But instead of telling my boss to find another sucker, I did what I was told. I was young, ignorant and a lot of other things.

And thanks to my dad, I was also not comfortable with questioning authority.

I was also getting a break from driving a tractor all day. I figured I’d drop off the SUV, have a couple of burgers and a shake, and then catch a ride with the guy I was supposed to meet up with back to where I was working that summer, a big corporate farm located in the high desert of Southern Idaho.

Sometimes the thought of a burger and shake can override all reason.

But what I didn’t expect to happen was playing chicken in a vehicle with no brakes with a crop duster that was using a straight stretch of the highway as a landing strip.

So, there I was, cruising down the highway at 60 mph, seconds from running head on into an airplane.  I had enough time to know I didn’t want to crash into the propeller. With a twitch of my hand, I dumped the SUV into the ditch on the right, careened underneath the plane’s left wing, and then with another hand twitch, I was launched up the gravel covered side of a culvert that was blocking the ditch, and flew back out onto the road.  I was still doing 45 mph.  My left arm was still propped onto the window sill.  I coasted to a stop, and pulled over to the side of the road and waited there until the shaking stopped all the while keeping an eye on the rear view mirror. I didn’t want that pilot racing up and kicking my ass.  I then crept the rest of the way to the repair shop in Idaho Falls and kept my near death experience to myself.

The wasn’t the last time I did anything stupid the summer I worked as a farmhand at Beaver Creek Ranch, but I did learn about the importance of brakes, and the value of luck.

And I still wonder from time to time how that pilot might tell his side of the story:

“Well, see, I was flying crop dusters in Eye-dee-ho. It was that summer Nixon resigned. We were using the highway right near the fields we were working as a landing strip. You know, to refuel and load fertilizer and pesticides and such.  So, I come in for a landing and this crazy sonofabitch, instead of pulling over to the side of the highway and letting me pass like any right minded Christian would do, well, he comes right at me like we were playing chicken or something.  I didn’t have enough time to get in the air. Just closed my eyes, if you wanna know the truth of it. But at the last goddamn second, that fucker turns into the ditch, and my wing goes right over the top of him.  Clipped his radio antenna.  I figure he had to be one of those long haired draft dodging hippies on drugs or something. I near shit my pants. . . ” 

 

Anosmia

Nose

 

 

 

 

an·os·mi·a
aˈnäzmēə

noun

The loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose

 

Like most people, I take some things for granted.

The sun rising tomorrow morning?  Check. Death? Oh, yeah. Taxes? Ditto. My sense of smell? Well, that too.

Until I lost it.

I’m still not sure what caused it. Maybe the nasty, lingering head cold that tantalized me with false recoveries along the way is to blame.

Or maybe it’s something else.

My doctor figured I had a sinus infection, a leftover present from that cold.  Until an x-ray and then CT scan indicated otherwise.  He’s been left scratching his head.  And because doctors can’t be left looking like they don’t have any answers, he’s recommending more tests.

I’m wondering if chasing a reason is a waste of time and money.  I’ll either get my sense of smell back, or I won’t.

In the meantime, I best get used to living in a world that’s deprived of the kind of depth, color and dimension that only smells and taste can provide.  At my age, it is just one more loss to add to a long and growing list of losses.

How we deal with loss (or not), as a wise friend once said, is what defines us in the end.  I suppose that’s true.  Not the only thing that defines us, but certainly one of them. Of course, all losses aren’t equal.  Some are barely noticed (maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are) while others can be profound and life changing.

That’s how I’ve come to view the loss of my sense of smell. I didn’t realize how disruptive it would be to lose it, how much losing it would also affect my sense of taste, and how profoundly I would miss it when it was gone.

“Gotta enough garlic in this sauce?” my wife asks.

“I have no idea,” I say but what I’m thinking is “goddamnit.”

The heady aroma of simmering garlic. I can’t imagine a more perfect smell. One of God’s great creations, the smell of garlic simmering in a pan (along with bacon and a few other dozen things I could mention) are a joy to behold.  The wonderful emotions and memories that are evoked by those aromas. . . all gone for the moment.  When I crush a handful of the fresh oregano I grow in a container near the front steps and raise the bruised leaves to my nose, I smell nothing.  When my wife comments about the hot sappy smell of pine trees as we hike along on a mountain trail in the late summer, I nod and smile, but I can only imagine how it must smell.  I missed out on the first fragrance from spring lilacs, garden roses this summer, and the rich heady smell of blackberries this autumn. I can’t tell you how much I miss the baby smell of my new granddaughter, or the comforting familiar fragrance of my wife of many years when I nuzzle her neck.

I’ve also lost something more subtle: the way in which some memories are evoked by certain smells.  Of course, they’re still there in some hidden crevice in my mind, but there is something about a smell that can bring them back sudden, fresh and new.  I remember a few years ago, riding my bike on the back roads south of Walla Walla.  I crested a small rise, and then followed the road as it swooped down along a wet, cottonwood-lined ravine. The aroma hit me like a snowball in the face and I was six-years-old again, back on my grandparent’s Sunnyside farm, standing ankle deep in the irrigation ditch that flowed behind their farmhouse beneath the cottonwood trees that kept it shaded and cool.

Lately, I’ve started getting hints of smells.  Nothing more than sparks, but I hope they’re a sign that my sense of smell is coming back, and not just ghosts.

I guess the one thing I haven’t lost yet is hope.  By any traditional definition, it isn’t one of our five senses, but I like to think of it as a stealth sense, and perhaps the most important one of all.  And not just when it comes to lost smell.

 

TV via “Peasantvision”or how we got rid of DirectTV

antennaA few weekends ago, we finally dropped our satellite TV service with DirectTV.  I’d been agitating to do it for a few months. Notification of yet another price increase finally convinced my wife, Sandy to go along.

Ours is a fairly typical story.  We were paying for a bunch of channels we never watched, a handful of other channels we only rarely watched.  Prices were always inching up. Yearly cost for the privilege of having all those channels we never watched?  Nearly $1,000.

I’d reviewed the options, considered SlingTV or changing providers.  Comcast is the other option in our area, and we’d heard enough horror stories about them not to consider it.

That left internet-only options or a combination of new school, and old school. We went with the combination, “peasantvision”, TV via the antenna I installed on the roof, augmented with Hulu and NetFlix.

Turns out, the hard part was actually wading through the crap DirectTV makes you put up with when you cancel their service.  The actual conversion to broadcast was fairly easy. Here’s a summary of what I did.  Start to finish I spent about 2 hours.

  1. Start with this. Google “TV reception maps” and use one of the results to check signal strength in your area.  Check with friends and neighbors who have gone cable/satellite sober and see what they’ve done. If you have plenty of options, move on to step 2.
  2. Buy an antenna.  I paid Amazon $30 for a roof antenna. Again, plenty of choices here so read reviews and check with friends and neighbors who have already done what you’re doing.
  3. Install the antenna on the roof. For me, this was fairly easy. I took down the old dish (DirectTV didn’t want it back), and bolted the antenna to the already existing stand on my roof. I also reused the already installed coaxial cable, using a “splitter” to take the one line from the antenna and split the signal for the lines going to my TVs.  I pointed the antenna in the direction of the broadcast sources.
  4. Back inside the house, I installed signal boosters with each TV.  The coaxial lines from the antenna (formerly from the dish) then plugged into the “in” port on my signal booster. I ran another short length of cable from the “out” port to the antenna port on the back of my TVs.
  5. Last step, I then used the TV’s setup to scan for channels.  It found 49 of them. Wow.

That was it. We use Chromecast to watch Hulu and Netflix. There are other options that work just as well.  We’re now getting all the major broadcast networks including PBS, and a bunch of others.

The Tao of the Trombone

trombone-1

The other day I realized that I’ve been playing the trombone for nearly 50 years.  And during that time, it hasn’t just been my musical instrument of choice, but a teacher.  It began shaping me when I was ten-years-old, and continues to do its work even now. In our age of distraction, it reminds me every time I sit down to play or practice that the rewards from music-making increase the more time and attention I give to my horn. I can’t play for five minutes, flit onto something else, and have any hope in maintaining my chops, let alone improve them and my technique.

In other words, devoting myself to the trombone has taught me the value of discipline and delayed gratification, the value of hard and persistent effort over not just days and weeks, but months and years. I’ve learned that even mediocrity takes effort. And finally, I’ve been taught the joy of being part of a collective effort – a duo, trio, quartet, combo, band, orchestra and so – sublimating and blending my individual contribution into a large whole can at times produce something that is transcendent.

The goal is beauty. How many other activities can claim that?

In part, I suppose, I believe in God because of music. When I’ve been playing my trombone, I’ve had moments where I’ve been part of something that has been close to perfect.  At those rare moments, I’ve felt something akin to an electric charge race up my spine and been nearly overwhelmed with joy.

I suppose some scientist could explain my feelings away, dismissing it as a byproduct of some hormone or another triggered by something or other.

Bullshit, I say.

I’m convinced that those feelings are God-inspired, and in some strange mystical way, at those moments, I’m within shouting distance of the outskirts of heaven.

What I’ve also discovered is that music isn’t the only way to get there.   I’ve had the same feelings of joy rowing in an eight-man shell, racing across Lake Washington’s bone smooth water in the pink light of early morning, oars rising and falling to a cosmic rhythm. It is still a mystery to me how playing a trombone can be like rowing a Pocock-built racing shell or climbing a mountain.

I have some ideas, but there’s also joy in contemplating the mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

Done

After 17 months, Gracie is done. finishedwherry

And here’s what I started with:

startwherry

 

Unlike the celebrations and inaugural launches I’ve seen on YouTube, the inaugural launch of Gracie was low key as fitting a high functioning introvert like me.  Just Sandy and me. No marching band. No champagne. I backed my truck up to the boat launch at the Port of Kingston, pulled her off the bed extension and set her gently in the water, locked in the oars, responded to a few comments from  some fisherman, took a few photographs, and then I was off, pulling out into Appletree Cove.

It was a big moment.  And yet I felt terribly out of sorts. On one hand, I had been working hard to get her done and out on the water before summer was completely  gone. But “done” meant I had to say goodbye to a routine that had become as anticipated as a greeting from an old friend.  When I wasn’t working on my boat, I was often thinking about what I was going to do next, and when I was about to attempt something I’d never done before – and I had plenty of those with this project – I was wrestling with how in the hell I was going to do them without committing an error so egregious it would ruin everything.  The project was very nearly all consuming at times, but more importantly, it was real, unlike so much of what I do.  In other words, it’s hard to sink your teeth into web-based training courses, but my boat was something I could quite literally bite, and I certainly breathed enough of her dust when I was sanding to make darn sure she was part of me in a way that wasn’t particularly healthy.

Enjoy. It’s a fairly common word with a less commonly used worked, joy, buried inside.  But that’s the word I would use to describe every moment of this project. It was a joy from start to finish, and now I’m experiencing a different kind of joy when I take it out on the water.

Delayed Gratification

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One final coat of sea green polyurethane was the exclamation point to finishing the exterior hull of my wherry.  Now, it’s on to the interior with another coat of epoxy needed followed up by four or five coats of varnish.

I think the sea green adds a nice accent to the white planks below and the warm mahogany rail above.  The mahogany is a little dirty right at the moment, but once I clean up the white primer and finish with the varnish I think that line will be nice and clean looking. It helps to have a color expert as a wife!

I’m sure I’ll have a heart attack the first time I scrape the hull over some rocks or run over a piece of driftwood, but so it goes. I can’t imagine a worse fate for a boat than to be stuck in a garage or storage unit year after year. In other words, Gracie is meant to be rowed, and rowed a lot, and the best gift I can give my wherry and myself would be to row it so much I wear her out.

So, the exterior hull was initially covered with three coats of epoxy.  I followed that up with three coats of primer, and finished it off with five coats of white Interlux Brightside polyurethane, and four coats of Interlux sea green.  There was a couple of hours of sanding required after each coat except for the last one.

This project is many things but certainly an exercise in delayed gratification. But that makes moments like this all the sweeter, and the anticipation is growing for that first time I slip her into the water and head out across Appletree Cove.

Sandy is suggesting we have a christening of some sorts and invite everyone who has been following my progress. I suppose that would be okay,  though that’s not really my style.

But that’s next month. Now it’s time for a Black Butte Porter.

Or two.

IMG_20160717_165647