Thursday, April 29, 2010

Accept No Substitutes

So, the other day, my buddy and I were solving the world's problems (and a couple of our own that we'd brought with us) over some brewed hops and barley, at a local watering-hole. Neither of us was particularly hungry, but I was sorta casually scanning the Appetizer card, just to see if anything appealed to me, when I espied an entry for something called 'Breast Substitutes'.

Ummmmm. . . Huh?

Neither of us had ever seen anything like that on a menu before, nor could we quite imagine what they might be (nor were we particularly inclined to ask the sweet young blonde who was waiting on our table). Nor could we quite imagine why anyone would even want a 'substitute' for such things.

But it's worth noting, I suppose, that at $3.00, they are rather considerably less costly than the real item. . .

But still. . .


Spring has sprung, the grass is riz. . . and the trees are budding, filling the air with pollen, causing eyes to itch, and sinuses to run. Which is a pain, but whatcha gonna do?

6F, who is not an allergy sufferer, was noticing that 5M (who is sort-of the 'Allergy Avatar' of our family) was more sneezy than normal, and wondering why. I was explaining that it was because of his allergy to pollen (which I also have, although not quite as acutely as he does) - that all of those lovely green buds adorning the trees are spewing out prodigious quantities of pollen which invisibly fills the air, so that we're all sort-of swimming in a sea of pollen, which irritates the eyes and sinuses of all of us allergy sufferers.

"You know," 5M chimed in, helpfully, "pollen is kinda like tree sperm, isn't it?"

Which, OK, true enough, but. . . I dunno, taken in the context of 'swimming in a sea' of it, sorta made my skin wanna crawl. . .

Monday, April 26, 2010

Out the Window

One of my favorite high school teachers was my sophomore-year history teacher, Mr. Ramrod, as we affectionately called him. He was a banty-rooster of a man - a 5-foot-6 ex-Marine (he was also a fanatic for Notre Dame football, but I don't hold that against him). Every day, he wore a pastel-green shirt, black pants, and a skinny black tie with a globe-and-anchor tie-tack; his hair, as you would expect, was never more than about a quarter-inch long. He was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm for his job of imparting knowledge to young minds who weren't always clear on the concept of what they were doing in his classroom in the first place. He would strut back-and-forth across the front of the classroom, using his long wooden pointer to whack the maps as he explained to us the intricate details of the Battle of the Bulge, or the foolishness of the Allied settlement after World War I. His class was fun, as well as interesting. Heck, even my brother, who was no kind of a scholarly 'grind', loved his class. Ex-Marine that he was, there was never any doubt as to where he stood on certain, um, issues of the day (bear in mind that it was the early '70s - the height of the Cold War - at the time). When I was in his class, Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union, and Mao Zedong ruled China. And Mr. Ramrod told all of his classes, on the first day of school, that, on the day that Brezhnev or Mao died, it would be a class holiday, and each of his classes would throw a party in honor of the auspicious day. Mao died in '76, a scant three years after I graduated, and Brezhnev in '82, and I always wondered if he had actually done what he told us he'd do. Mr. Ramrod was the Guest of Honor at our 20th class reunion in '93, and I asked him about that. His face lit up, pleased that I'd remembered. "You're damn right we did!" Mr. Ramrod was also a coach for the football team, and, as you might well imagine, his energy and enthusiasm were very, uh, motivational. Despite his small stature, he had a very winning way of getting his players to believe they could do more than they thought they could. In the classroom, he would often use joking mock-threats to get his students, especially the boys, to stay in line and pay attention. One of his favorites was, "You guys had better settle down and pay attention, or I'm gonna start throwing people out the window!" And even though most of us outweighed him by at least 30 pounds, none of us had any doubts as to whether or not he could do it. He would even tell the other teachers, "If my kids don't shape up, I'm gonna have to start throwing 'em out the window." Our classroom was on the second floor, but the architecture of our school was such that the first floor was about half-underground, so the second floor was really only about a floor-and-a-half up. So he wasn't exactly threatening to throw us off the Empire State Building. . . ------------------------- Now, one fine early-spring day (and I have to tell you, Up North, where I'm from, spring doesn't really fully arrive until well into April, or even May, and when it does finally arrive, there's a LOT of pent-up energy flying around the high school), Mr. Ramrod had some pressing business outside the classroom (I have no idea what he was up to), so he set us up with some Defense Department movie of the Battle of the Bulge, or somesuch, left us with his standard threat to throw us out the window if we misbehaved in his absence, and left us to ourselves with the Wehrmacht in the Ardennes (or was it the Japanese Navy at Leyte Gulf? I forget). You can imagine how well that worked - unsupervised 15-year-olds in a high-school classroom on one of the first warm days of spring. 'When the cat's away, the mice will play,' and all that. Pretty soon, a couple of the guys were daring each other to commit various and sundry minor transgressions of discipline, and in the fullness of time, it escalated to where one of the guys got up on the window ledge, opened the window, and jumped out. When he landed on the ground, less than ten feet below, we all watched and cheered as he ran around the corner of the building to the stairwell, ran up the stairs and into our classroom, which was, conveniently enough, the closest one to the stairwell. Upon re-entering the classroom, he swiftly took his seat, pretending that nothing had happened, while the rest of us broke out in gales of laughter. Well, one guy having successfully pulled off the 'transgression', only spurred others on to match his feat of daring and rebellion. Another guy jumped out the window, and when he was safely back in his seat, another followed. Maybe five or six guys, all told, jumped out the window, made their end-run of the building, ascended the stairs, and returned successfully to their seats. All in great, mischievous fun. And of course, Mr. Ramrod was gone, so no-one was the wiser. ------------------------- Except for one thing. We were on the second floor, and there was a first-floor classroom directly beneath us. As it turned out, it was a math class, taught by another of the football coaches. Mr. Hulk (as I'll call him here) was almost the polar-opposite of Mr. Ramrod - he was a massive man, of the 'Gentle Giant' persuasion. In his bearing, he was almost stereotypically 'coach-ly' - he had a gravelly voice, and a slow manner of speech that made him seem vaguely dumb (which he certainly was not). Temperamentally, he tended to have a VERY long fuse before he would react negatively in any way. And he absolutely would NOT use profanity of any sort whatsoever. Us football players would snicker amongst ourselves when he would chew us out at practice, saying, "WHAT THE DING-DONG DO YOU GUYS THINK YOU'RE DOING?!?" So that was Mr. Hulk, and his math class, as I said, was directly below our history class. ------------------------- About ten minutes or so before the end of the class period, Mr. Ramrod returned, the movie ended, he set up the film projector to rewind the film (am I just dating myself horribly by mentioning the old movie projectors, with the big old reels of film that you had to rewind after playing them?), and the kids in the class all looked around, knowingly mischievously, thinking that we had really pulled one over on The System. A knock came on the door. Mr. Ramrod answered the door; it was Mr. Hulk. "Mr. Hulk!" he chirped. "How can I help you today?" "Mr. Ramrod," began Mr. Hulk, in his slow, plodding manner. "Would you please refrain from throwing your students out the window, as it is disrupting my class." Mr. Ramrod was confused, and looked back at Mr. Hulk with a look of utter bewilderment. "Throwing my students. . .?" Suddenly, awareness spread across his face, when he considered that he'd just been gone for virtually the entire class period. "Thank you, Mr. Hulk," he replied. "I assure you, it won't happen again." Mr. Hulk thanked him and left, and he closed the door. Turning to the class, and trying his best to keep a stern face, he said, "So - you guys were jumping out the window while I was gone?" And while we all trembled, wondering what fate worse than death he might have in store for us, he just shook his head and smiled. "Can you believe it?" he asked us. "He really thought I was throwing you guys out the window! I guess I'll have to be more careful how I talk in the teachers' lounge." And he just cracked up at the thought that Mr. Hulk would take it as anything beyond the joke that it was. While we all exhaled. . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hmmmmm. . .

Jen was pointing out to me the other day that 'stressed' spelled backwards is 'desserts'. . . Apropos of exactly what, I'm not sure. . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting My Wisdom Revoked

Suldog has done it again - his recent post about some dental work he had done prodded my memory banks for another dental story of my own (which might bring to mind an earlier 'dental post' of mine; or it might not). And then, just this past Friday, my friend Michelle Hickman, over at The Surly Writer, put up a post about her own wisdom teeth (which qualifies as a harmonic convergence of the highest order). . . Also - fair warning: if you're a person who gets squeamish at the thought of seeing the dentist, you might just want to skip this one, and we'll see you again next week. . . ------------------------- I was 23 or 24, about a year into my first job; Jen and I were newly engaged. I was sitting in my dentist's chair for my regular checkup (now that I had a real job, with dental insurance, dontchaknow), when my dentist furrowed his brow and pronounced, "We're gonna have to get those wisdom teeth out of there." So, we scheduled an appointment; we were in agreement that it would be best to get all four of them out at once, so we set aside two solid hours, a couple weeks hence. ------------------------- When I arrived, the first thing the dentist did was place a little rubber thing over my nose. "I'm gonna give you some laughing gas," he said, "besides the local anesthetic. Sometimes wisdom teeth can get a little difficult." Oh, boy, I thought. Nothing like putting me at ease. But, as far as putting me at ease, the gas was doing just fine. In a few minutes, I wasn't exactly in La-La-Land, but I was very, very mellow. It felt like the chair was a bowl, and I was a big gelatinous wad of spaghetti. Which, all things considered, was not unpleasant in the least. The dentist came back, with his foot-long needle full of novocaine, and in short order, my lip and cheek had transmogrified into a rubber-like substance that was only tenuously connected to my body (which was itself fairly tenuously connected to the rest of the Universe, at that point; but I digress). Once all my nerve-endings were effectively shut off, he set to work, poking and prodding around the back of my mouth, to ascertain just what he was dealing with. He asked his assistant for something called an 'Elevator', which, once he set to work with it in my mouth, I figured out was just a fancy 'dental' name for a 'crowbar'; he tried to get it underneath the body of my tooth, and pry it loose. No dice. "OK, you better give me the Extractor," he said, and his assistant handed him a pair of stainless-steel bent-nose pliers. Gripping my tooth with the 'Extractor', he jerked it back and forth, trying to break the tooth loose from its moorings in my jaw. Which only had the immediate effect of wagging my head back-and-forth as he torqued away on my tooth. He sat back, breathing heavily. "You got one tough jaw, partner," he panted. He turned his attention to the tooth on my lower jaw, which was similarly unyielding. The back half of the lower tooth was buried under some gum tissue, so he set about cutting the tissue away to get at the tooth better. After yanking and tugging for a while longer, he sat back again, beads of sweat on his forehead now, and a look of grim determination on his face. Uh-oh, I thought to myself; I don't think I wanna know what's coming next. What came next, in this little drama of dental demolition, was the miniature circular saw (I forget what the proper 'dental' name for it is), as he set about cutting my tooth into quarters, to pull it out one root at a time, while my mouth filled with the taste of combined tooth- and bone-dust. When the tooth had been successfully quartered, he brought back the 'Extractor', and started yanking on the individual tooth-quarters, grunting with effort as he did so. At one point, I was a little worried that I was gonna leave his office with tread-marks from the bottom of his shoes imbedded in my cheek, but he never got quite to that point. "Like trying to pull a lag-bolt out of concrete," he muttered to himself. Finally, he got one of the roots to budge, and managed to pull it out. Then the next, and the next, and the next, and at last my lower-right wisdom tooth was gone, leaving a bleeding hole where it had been. At this point, the two-hour appointment was already up, and he had only managed to extract one of the four teeth he had planned on that day. Using the knowledge he'd gained from the lower tooth, he got the upper tooth out a bit more easily this time, then set about suturing up the gum tissue he'd so artfully carved in my lower jaw. We made another appointment for two weeks later, for the teeth on the left, and he gave me a prescription for some pain-killers. ------------------------- I left his office, and got in my car to head home. The novocaine was still pretty much in full force, so I decided to take a quick detour on my way home. As I mentioned above, Jen and I were newly-engaged; I knew that she had to be at her job by noon, and it was then around 11AM, so I thought I could swing by her house and chill for a bit before the novocaine wore off. So I did, and we had a nice visit, notwithstanding that I could barely talk, for all the gauze that was packed into the back-right corner of my mouth. Before long, Jen had to leave for work, so I got back in my car, and headed home, knowing that there was a pharmacy right on the way. It was only three or four miles from Jen's house to mine, but somewhere during that short distance, the novocaine wore off. I had stayed maybe five minutes too long at my fiancee's house (oh, the foolishness of Love; I suppose that's what happens when a young man has half his earthly supply of Wisdom surgically removed). And now the back of my mouth was exploding in searing, piercing pain, like some demented little demon was camping out in the back of my mouth, trying to jam an ice pick through my jaw and out the bottom of my chin (if you think of the scene from The Twilight Zone with the little demon on the airplane wing, you've got the basic image). It was all I could do to pay sufficient attention to drive the car to the pharmacy. I got to the pharmacy with the right side of my jaw pulsating in pain, and ran back to the druggist's counter. A little white-haired lady was remonstrating with the pharmacist for having not quite filled a prescription of hers 'the way you're supposed to'. The pharmacist was scratching his head, and checking his records, and she was wagging her finger at him, while I waited in line behind her, shifting from one foot to the other and dancing in little circles from the pain in my jaw. I was just about to pick the dear lady up bodily and heave her into the next aisle, when the problem, whatever it had been, was blessedly resolved. As she turned to leave, I rushed past her and thrust my prescription toward the pharmacist with a quivering hand. He looked at it and said, "Oh, you're probably in a bit of pain, aren't you?" "MMM-HMMM!!!" (I actually surprised myself at how much sarcasm it was possible to communicate without even opening my mouth.) He handed me the prescription (Darvocet, I vaguely recall), I paid for it, and drove home (blessedly, it was only a few blocks from the pharmacy to my house). I took my first pain-killer and headed to bed. It was a couple days before the pain and swelling had subsided enough for me to go back to work. As I said, I had a second appointment two weeks later, to remove the wisdom teeth on the left side of my mouth. Forewarned and forearmed, the second round, while duly rigorous, wasn't quite so grueling as the first had been. And, much as I loved my dear bride-to-be, this time I went straight to the pharmacy, and straight home afterwards. ------------------------- I don't see the same dentist anymore - in the fullness of time, he took his practice in some different, exotic directions other than Family Dentistry. But I still bump into him from time to time, and he will still say - often as not, unprompted by me - that my wisdom teeth are the toughest he's ever done. I'm so honored. . .

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spelunking the Back End. . .

Today, I am occupied with my second colonoscopy, which I'm sure you're all glad to know. It's just one of those 'passage of life' things, once you get past your 50th birthday. Dave Barry has written most entertainingly, and earnestly, about his own colonoscopy. And, just for the sake of saying so, I have, too (well, I'll leave it to others to decide whether or not it was entertaining; but I did write about it). So today, in honor of the occasion, I am giving you yet another re-post, from September of 2006, on Jen's and my first colonoscopies (and if I may say so myself, I think it's one of my better ones. . .) If all goes well, perhaps I'll even give you an update this afternoon, when it's all said and done. . .


 Jen and I both turned 50 this year. It's funny, but 50 seems like a taller psychological hurdle than any of the previous 'decade' birthdays have been. I mean, when I was 49, I could say I was "in my 40s", and that didn't sound so old. But there's no way to make 50 sound younger than it is. Oh, well; I can always say "you're as young as you feel," and I feel pretty darn good. I also have a four-year-old and an eight-year-old, so I can't be all that old, now can I?

Anyway, the thing with these 'decade' birthdays is that they always seem to usher you into some new medical regime; I started doing regular physicals when I turned 40. I did all the blood work, peed in the little cup, had my doc and a couple of nurses poke me, prod me, listen to this, that and the other thing, and then, when it was almost over, the doc starts putting on a rubber glove, and tells me to drop my pants and lean over the exam table. "It's time for your very first prostate exam," he said, and he wasted no time getting down to work.

The good news: I have a very healthy prostate. I also have no latent homosexual tendencies whatsoever; if I was ever 'bi-curious', I'm not any more.

I'm less sure of Jen's after-40 regimen. I think it was around that time that she started getting regular mammograms, but she doesn't talk to me about it much, and that's mainly just fine with me.

So, this year, after the doc slips off his rubber glove at the end of the physical, he says, "Hmmmm; you're turning 50 this year. Time for you to get a colonoscopy." Hmmmm. 'Colon'; 'scope' - I think I see where this is headed, and I'm not altogether sure that I appreciate it quite as fully as my doc does.

For whatever reason, by midsummer, I still hadn't scheduled my colonoscopy. I'm not squeamish, and I don't have some 'complex' about doctors or medical stuff; I just hadn't gotten around to it yet. Then, around her own 50th birthday, Jen goes in for her physical, and she comes back with her own colonoscopy order. And it's at this point that you're going to learn about another of the endearingly goofy things that make my wife wonderful.

"I've got a great idea," she says. "We could get our colonoscopies together! Don't you think that would be romantic?"

His-and-hers colonoscopies. . . No, I don't think 'romantic' is quite the word that comes immediately to mind. I'm not sure exactly what Jen is thinking, but I'm conjuring an image of the two of us lying face-down on adjoining gurneys, holding hands while the technicians poke at our hind ends. Shaking my head to clear my brain of that image, I say, "Sure dear; what the heck - we might as well just get them both out of the way, anyway."

So Jen calls the lab and tells them she wants our appointments scheduled together. The scheduler pauses for a long time before asking, "Who's going to drive? You'll both be doped up after the procedure; you'll need a driver." Um, OK, no problem; we can get 1F to pick us up. Then the scheduler asks, "Um, how many bathrooms do you have?" Huh? Why would it matter how many bathrooms we have? "Well, when you're doing your prep work, you'll both need to have pretty exclusive use of a bathroom." Prep work? "Well, yeah, you need to have your bowel cleared out before the procedure."

Now, I'm starting to get a really bad vibe about this. Anyway, Jen says no problem, we've got two-and-a-half bathrooms, so we can each take one and still have one left over for the kids to use. Hmmm; five kids for a half-bathroom. Okay, I guess, if we really have to. So we schedule both procedures for last Friday.

Now, the prep work for a colonoscopy is outlined in two pages of instructions, which, when properly executed, will result in a completely vacant large intestine. It starts a week or so ahead of time; you have to stop eating things with seeds, like strawberries, tomatos or cucumbers. For a day and a half before the procedure, you eat no solids, only clear liquids. Two days beforehand, you make a trip to the pharmacy; the instructions give you a long list of meds to be taken on a specified schedule. In simplified form, this amounts to, "Go to the pharmacy; find the laxative aisle; get one of everything, except two of the most powerful stuff." Then go home and start consuming them, starting with the mildest stuff and working your way up. When your prep work is complete, there is nothing left inside of you.

Jen chose her bathroom, and I chose mine; if we needed to talk, we called each other on our cell phones.

Friday morning, we show up at the lab and check in. They give us the hospital gowns open down the back (well, what did you expect?), take our vital signs, and hit us with the 'happy meds'. Apparently this is a procedure that goes best when you're not quite fully cognizant of what's going on.

The techs come for Jen first, and wheel her off down the hall, while she cheerfully waves and chirps, "Wish me luck!" A half-hour or so later, I hear her giggling as they wheel her back to the waiting area, and we pass each other in the hall as they wheel me down to the lab room.

They roll me on my side, and there's a TV screen directly in front of me, so I can watch the colon-cam pictures while the doc goes spelunking in my large intestine. It's sort of bizarre to think that the cave on the TV is really somewhere up inside my own ass, but the 'happy meds' make it so that there really aren't any associated physical sensations, so it's sort of like a weird out-of-body thing going on.

The procedure went really well - they found one tiny, benign 'polyp', which they snipped right out while I watched on the live-action butt-cam. Other than that, I have a clean bill of colonic health. And Jen's intestines are even healthier than mine. Which I'm sure you're all happy to hear.

When they were finished, they rolled me back to the waiting area, where Jen was waiting for me with dreamy eyes (either she was really, really into the whole 'romantic' thing, or the 'happy meds' were slow in wearing off). The final stage of the procedure involves 'expelling' all the 'air' that had been pumped into our intestines to keep them 'open' for the colon-cam shots. I will say that Jen's intestines are tuned to a somewhat higher pitch than mine are.

So there you have it. I don't know, maybe Jen was right - maybe it was more romantic than I expected it to be; a real husband/wife bonding experience, you know?

Naaaaah, I don't think so!


(edit, 4:00 PM)

OK, I'm back, and things are all good on the Colon Front. In fact, things are good enough that they told me I don't need to come back for five years this time around, so if we stretch things out just a little, maybe Jen and I can go together again when we're 60. . . ;)

I was a little disappointed that, this time, instead of keeping me awake to watch the proceedings on the colon-cam, they just knocked me out. Which, on the plus side, made it kinda like when I was a kid and we'd drive to Grandma-and-Grandpa's house, and Dad would make us lie down in back, and we'd arrive about five minutes after we left, instead of the three hours of 'real time'. . .

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Christ Is Risen!

The Exsultet
(traditional Easter Hymn of Victory, from the Vigil Mass)

Rejoice, heavenly powers!
Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth in shining splendor,
Radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
Echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!


It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices
We should praise the unseen God,
The all-powerful Father,
And His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
For Christ has ransomed us with His blood,
And paid for us the price of Adam’s sin
To our eternal Father.

This is our Passover feast,
When Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
Whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
When the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night
When Christians everywhere,
Washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
Are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
When Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
And rose triumphant from the grave!

What good would life have been to us,
Had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.
O happy fault!
O necessary sin of Adam,
Which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
Chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!
Of this night Scripture says:
"The night will be clear as day;
It will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night
Dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
Restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy;
It casts out hatred, brings us peace,
And humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed,
When Heaven is wedded to earth
And man is reconciled with God!
Therefore, heavenly Father,
In the joy of this night
Receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
Your Church’s solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
A flame divided but undimmed,
A pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.
Let it mingle with the lights of Heaven
And continue bravely burning
To dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
Find this flame still burning:
Christ that Morning Star,
Who came back from the dead,
And shed His peaceful light on all mankind,
Your Son who lives and reigns forever and ever.