This Is Christmas

Just before Christmas, I stopped into the tobacco shop for some last minute supplies. Since my son is no longer a minor, I’ve enjoyed sitting and having a cigar with him occasionally. Thank God, he seems to have inherited his mother’s lack of nicotine receptors, so he doesn’t crave the tobacco. He can have a smoke once in a great while, and that’s it. Since he turned eighteen, the three of us have sat down to some small cigars on a handful of occasions, and it’s been a great time. I usually like to keep some Nat Sherman Natural Original cigarettes on hand, as my Dad will take one on some Sunday afternoons. It doesn’t even happen every week, but on the rare occasion, I like to have them around. He won’t buy his own cigarettes, because if he does, he winds up smoking a whole pack.

So, there I was at the tobacco shop, I picked up a tin of some Davidoff Mini Churchills (one of our favorite cigars), a pack of Nat Sherman Natural Originals, and two ounces of my golden Virginia pipe tobacco. “If you have two ounces there,” I noted the mostly empty jar.

“Oh, I have more under the counter,” assured the clerk.

I had not checked out yet, but milled around the shop for a bit, looking at beautiful pipes and other paraphernalia. An older man came in with a woman around my age while I browsed. They walked up to the counter and started looking at the pipe tobacco selection.

“What do you want, Dad?” she asked in a loud voice. There was impatience in her voice. She was not being unkind, but she did sound like she was wearing thin.

He picked out a few tobaccos, and the same clerk was bagging them and labeling the bags. On a lark, I went back to the clerk and said, “would you please get this gentleman two ounces of that golden Virginia that I buy, and put it on my ticket?”

“You bet,” he smiled, and bagged up the additional tobacco. I suppose they didn’t notice my interjection, because the woman confronted the clerk and told him that they hadn’t asked for that.

He continued what he was doing, nodded his head towards me, and said, “this is from him.”

They both turned and looked at me. I nodded my head back at them. The daughter made eye contact with me and said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I smiled, “Merry Christmas.”

Then, the old man shuffled over to me, “thank you, sir,” he said, extending his hand for a handshake.

I reaffirmed my reply, and took his hand. He clamped onto my hand, in the ‘I’m going to talk to you now’ shake, pulled in close, closer than I’m usually comfortable with a stranger in my personal space, locked eye contact with me, and began to speak, “so, you in the service?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said, “I managed to avoid that somehow.”

His old eyes, going blue with slowly developing cataracts sparkled as he smiled, “well, you rascal!” And then, he continued, “I served for over twenty years. I was in Vietnam.”

I often forget how old our Vietnam vets are getting at this point. “Thank you for your service, sir.”

Still pumping my hand he said, “thank you, sir, for the tobacco.”

“It’s the least I can do. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas.”

Once he finally let me have my hand back, the daughter said to me, “thank you so much. You really didn’t have to do that.”

“I know I didn’t,” I said, “I hope he enjoys that. Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you,” she said again, visibly more at ease than when they entered the shop.

With that, I left. I honestly can’t tell you exactly why I decided to buy him my pipe tobacco. And no, I know full well that I didn’t need to buy tobacco for that guy, but it was totally worth the eight bucks of tobacco for that interchange alone. And, I do hope that he’s enjoyed it! The stuff that he was asking for was all English blend of one stripe or another. The golden Virginia isn’t nearly as sweet in flavor, but most pipe smokers can appreciate the difference. I suspect that dude has been smoking a pipe since before I was born.

Cell Phones Make Me Feel Old, As a 39-Year Old, at the End of 2017

I was a relatively early adopter of mobile phone technology, in the grand scheme of things. At seventeen years old, I was the first member of my immediate family to get a cell phone, which was hard-mounted in my car, and operated on prepaid minutes that were VERY EXPENSIVE by today’s standards. So much so that I didn’t give my number out, and only used the thing for emergencies. Starting around that time, give or take a couple of years, I dreamed, nay fantasized, about having a device I could put in my pocket that operated like a tiny computer, and might even connect online!

Back in the early days of the internet, I don’t think I knew anyone who actually had internet service. Sure, I knew plenty of folks that had modems, and they’d dial up to other people they knew who also had modems and “send emails” or “transfer a picture” (which took forever), or whatever. But, even before my current household had internet service, I wanted that sci-fi device that would connect to the internet that was as small, if not smaller (ghasp!) than a graphing calculator.

I bought my first handheld mobile phone in 1998. Jennifer and I had just started dating, and we kind of knew we were a a permanent thing, right off the bat. She’d just gotten her cell phone, and back in those days you could more or less pick your own phone number. So, I chose a number that was the exact same as hers, save for two digits. At the time, people thought we were crazy, “what if you break up?” they’d ask, with shock in their eyes. We got married before the end of the year. Almost twenty years later, we still have the same phone numbers.

Of course, phones come and go. Some last longer than others. In about 2001 (maybe 2002), Jennifer and I upgraded our mobile phones. The new ones were flip phones with these new-fangled LCD screens. There was an extremely low-resolution screen inside the clamshell, and an even lower-resolution screen on the outside, so you could assign a picture to display upon an incoming call, according to your contact list. Honestly, if they’d make a modern equivalent, it’d be a pretty sweet setup. This phone also had a camera built into it! Granted, it was only like a .33mp camera (if that), and it only took pictures (no video), but nobody else had camera phones at the time. We would take pictures with our phones and it would confuse bystanders.

So. This morning, I was sitting on the toilet, tracking an incoming package on on my tablet. Sweet, I have a camera lens coming in today! I think I was using the home wifi network, but it may have been on my data plan. I’m not sure, and I don’t much care. Yeah, that device that I dreamed of earlier; the little computer that fits in my pocket? Now, I carry two of them daily. Never did I dream that each of them would have two cameras that are higher resolution than the early digital cameras that I sneered at because “digital just doesn’t have the resolution of film and will never catch on.” Face palm. Don’t get me started on touch screens.

Now, my phone is getting “kind of old,” by today’s standards. It’s a Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport. The tech specs on it blow away any PC I could have put my hands on back when I started dreaming of these things, in terms of processing speed, RAM, or storage space. And, I couldn’t put anything like that in my pocket. And, it wouldn’t work under water. I think the Galaxy S8 is out now? Even though I did not, I could have written and posted this entry from the family farm, way out in the woods. It’s such an everyday device, but it’s so much what I wanted before it was a thing, and then so much more than I ever imagined!

I mentioned above that my first cellular phone was expensive to operate. And, it only made and received phone calls. Now, I don’t think twice about queuing up Pandora on my phone, or a selection from our combined CD library that we’ve been collecting since about 1993, for a long road trip. Heck, I can’t tell you the last time I actually listened to broadcast radio (SeriusXM notwithstanding). Satellite radio is entirely another rant, by the way. And, when in the world did those two merge, anyway?* Also, being able to pull up the combined knowledge of mankind, at a whim, virtually anywhere I go. Wow. And yet, more often than not, I use it to watch political (or cat) videos, or play solitaire (which you can still do with a tangible deck of cards, oh irony of ironies), or occasionally reset my watch at Yeah, I wear a mechanical wrist watch. For a long time, people stopped wearing watches because “they carried a phone,” and then, they started wearing a ‘smart watch’ that connected to their phone, so “they didn’t have to pull out their phone to check the time.” *eyes rolling…* I skipped that whole dumb cycle and I’m still wearing a mechanical wrist watch. Okay, enough of the tangents in this paragraph; let’s wrap this puppy up.

To you youngsters out there, hear me now: your time is coming. Sooner than you think will come a time when you’re telling tales of crap that nobody remembers anymore. You’ll look at the world around you; how it’s changed, how it’s the same; and you’ll say to yourself, “there’s no way I’ve gotten that old already. I’m not that old!” To you old-timers out there, take my words with the deference that I deliver them: I’m starting to get it. Coming into ‘middle age,’ or whatever, is opening my eyes to all the weird stuff you’ve been saying my whole life about “back in mah day…” So, please keep telling me about how you had to be home when the street lights went out, or party lines (which actually suits this post better), or whatever you like, for that matter.

There’s a lot of stuff your modern smart phone will do, either natively, or through a downloadable app. I don’t need to explain anymore about why that, in and of itself, it pretty amazing. But, most of the secondary and tertiary stuff your phone can do, can be done far better with a dedicated device. That is to say that your phone has a powerful processor, a sharp screen, and lots of memory, but most of us use a dedicated computer for serious computational tasks (although even that may be changing). The cameras in these things are getting shockingly sophisticated, but they still won’t compete with my DSLR (although, I said digital photography would never catch on, and my first camera phone took grainy, low-res pics). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that these things sprouted out of nowhere and have come a long way since, and although they’re not a perfect replacement for everything, they’re historical improvements show us that they have a long way to go still. What do you think they’ll look like in twenty years from now?

*2008, apparently. Good grief, almost ten years ago, and I didn’t notice it happen…

A Knife for The Boy

For months now, Isaac has been talking about karambits. Sometimes, he’ll obsess over something. For a while it was butterfly knives. He wanted that one, perfect karambit.

Jennifer and I were in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, and I was going through the Atlanta Cutlery catalog. I ran across their “Rustic Karambit,” and I said, “Umm, um, babe?”

To which she responded, “shut up and order it already!”

And, so, I did. And, it delivered last night. We were on the front porch, and the sun had set. The mail man came up. “You’re working late,” I commented to him. He chuckled and gave me the package. I knew what it was.

“Isaac,” I said, wanting to task him with something so we could check out the merch, “why don’t you go clean the kitty waterer?” And, he complied. He’s a good kid.

I ripped open the package and noted that there was no tape on the box. We pulled the lid off of it. “I’m not sure I want to wait two weeks for Christmas,” I said.

“It’s beautiful,” Jennifer said, “do you want to give it to him now?”


So, he came back from cleaning out the quadruped water fountain, and we asked him if he wanted his main Christmas present now or wait two weeks. You know how that went.

“I didn’t wrap it,” I handed him the box, “read the label on this side.”

He read, “Rustic Karambit.” He raised his eyebrow and gave me that “no, you didn’t” look. But, yeah, we did. He opened the box and proclaimed that it was perfect.

“Shall I take that girl to my strop to hone and strop her?” I asked.

“Yes please!”

Minutes later, I returned with his knife, and shaved hair off my arm with it, “that will get the job done, right?”

“Heck yeah,” he said.

So, today, I said to Isaac, “Since you’re carrying a weapon of the Sikh, you should follow their code of arms in carrying their weapons. Never pull it in anger. Only pull it in defense of others. That’s all.”

“Yes,” he responded with the gravity that the knife demands. I could see it in his eyes that he’s not going to play with the knife.

“You should look on YouTube for fighting methods with that knife,” I advised.

He gravely answered me, “I will,” with a nod of his head.

R. I. P., Friend

I could hear the motor whirring on his mobility scooter as he approached, a black flag flying behind him. At a glance, it looked like a Jolly Roger. On closer inspection, it was a Dia De Los Muertos styled skull, adorned with The Legend of Zelda imagery. He didn’t pause for pleasantries, as was his custom, but went right to the point.

“I started on your pen,” he said, rocking his head side to side, as was his characteristic, signature body language.

Probably about a year before, I’d admired some hand-turned pens he was displaying for sale. They were all very nice roller balls, beautifully finished exotic woods. I asked if he did any fountain pens, and he said that he could do a fountain pen, but he’d need to order the kit. He asked me about material, and I told him that I wasn’t picky. He had a good eye for that sort of thing. I offered him some pink ivory pen blanks that I wound up with, and he encouraged me to get a pen lathe and try my hand at it instead.

“It’s not that hard, and the lathes are cheap,” he said, “but, I’ll still make one for you. I’ll make it special.”

So here, a year later, I responded, “Oh yeah?

“I just didn’t want you to think that I’ve forgotten about you. Yeah,” he said, “you’re getting antler.”

I exclaimed, “oh, cool!”

He started explaining, “it’s taking some time because I had to rough cut the material and resin impregnate it…”

I interrupted, “because it’s so porous. That stuff is like bone sponge.”

“Exactly,” he nodded.

That was the weekend that my last thirteen posts have addressed. I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, April 30, because the lights were on in the building at the fairgrounds. It may have been that awful Friday though. The time stream kind of blurs in there. And, that was the last weekend we saw him.

Michael Logan was the kind of man that didn’t know a stranger. He would talk your ear off, and just when you thought you couldn’t take any more, he’d buzz off on his scooter, other people to talk up, other things to do. We were friends from the first time we met. I usually distrust people who are so friendly on first meeting, and I’ve been working on that. The back of my mind asks “what’s your angle; what are you trying to get from me?” I’ve since come to learn that some people just really are that friendly. Michael didn’t know a stranger. He was a cancer survivor, and despite his broken body, he would show up to the party anywhere his mobility scooter would allow. He was a very special person, and more alive than most people I’ve known ambulating on their own two legs. He would send me a message every now and then, at random, reading, “Good Lord, man! Go back to bed!” Most of the time, this had absolutely no context, night or day, but became a beloved surprise when he sent it. I’m sad that I’ll be receiving no more of those.

I met Michael through the Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society. Whoever says that video games have no redemptive quality has clearly never met in a room with like minded folks to communally enjoy the fandom. I feel loved by these people, and I love them in return. They’ve seen me at my worst, and maybe near my best, but they have always accepted me. If it weren’t for video games, I would have probably never met him.

I kind of always knew that I’d outlive him, but I could never be prepared. I found out last night via FaceBook that he had passed from this mortal coil. I was shocked. Numb. Of course, I was sad, but I couldn’t even fully feel that, if that makes any sense at all. He’ll be missed by many. He’ll be missed by me. The mutual friend who shared the news asked if we had any pictures of the two of them getting into “wheel chair races.” Regrettably, we do not. He actually wrote up a piece about Michael on his own blog here, which is quite touching. Said friend is not relegated to a wheel chair, but there was one available, and he likes to clown around like that. Michael was the kind of guy that saw the good time in such shenanigans. I’d love to have some pictures of that kind of silliness. Please do go and read Jennifer’s write up, if you haven’t already.

I don’t know what finally took him, but his health was poor, so I don’t even care to make conjecture. Still, I don’t even get my damned pen. My Michael Logan, antler, fountain pen. Not that the pen itself matters at all, but he was making it special for me. I guess I’ll have to pick up a pen lathe after all. As a tribute. R. I. P., friend.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 13: Possible Causes? And, The End

Life does go on. I wrote about that a little yesterday in Part 12.

Some days, I’ve felt exhausted. Some days, I feel that “nauseated but not nauseated.” On rare occasion, I’ve had that nasty cough with the gag at the end of it. Do you know what that sounds like though? Asphyxia. Lack of oxygen to the brain can be a seizure trigger (because, of course it can). I’ve had an awful habit of holding my breath under stress. I wrote at the beginning of this that I’d had a tooth pulled. My dad’s cousin was my orthodontist. He kept reminding me to breath the nitrous oxide, because I’d stop breathing and my mouth would hurt. On those days that I start feeling that ‘aura,’ it helps immensely if I will simply control my breathing.

A few days after the event, Jennifer reminded me that I’d said my McDonald’s Coke ‘tasted funny.’ True. She suggested to me the possibility that they’d mistakenly filled my order with a Diet Coke. When she was younger, she was diagnosed with migraines. When we started dating, she’d have a debilitating migraine weekly. When I was younger, I often had debilitating headaches that I now have reason to suspect were undiagnosed migraines. We had not been married very long when Jennifer cut all aspartame out of our life; gum, toothpaste, drinks. Things got frustrating for a while. But, the headaches went away. Her weekly migraines went down to annual, and then dried up from there. I stopped getting headaches as well. The only time my head hurts anymore is if I’m actually sick, or I have sinus congestion, that apparently my neurologist can help with, because my aunt’s MRI is too powerful, because the world is weird. But, I digress. Again. A freaking stick of gum can give me a migraine. If I drank a 32oz Diet Coke on an empty stomach, sleep deprived, I don’t know how that would NOT cause a seizure.

It was scary and totally unexpected. Nobody really knows why I had a seizure. But, it’s been over six months now, and I’m driving again. As I wrote earlier, I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but the six-month mark is a hugely important milestone. More towards the beginning of recovery, I’d count down the days.

People would ask, “so, when do you get to drive again?”

“October 28,” I’d quickly answer without a moment’s hesitation.

Earlier, I mentioned the bicycle that my dad gave me. It’s a 20-year-old Schwinn 21-speed. I ordered a cargo rack for the back of it. That felt so freeing, and I’ve been able to make quite a few critical around-town grocery trips. You know that phrase, “it’s just like riding a bicycle?” LIES! When I first got on that thing, I was wobbling all over the place. In fairness, it only took a little practice for me to start getting comfortable with the Schwinn. We’ve had some good times, strapping a bluetooth speaker to the cargo rack, clamping my phone into the handlebar mount I got for it, and pedaling around town with the music going. Some days, the bike is even more pleasant than the car or truck.

Honestly, I was a little unsure whether I could legally drive on the day of the six-month mark, or after that. Just to play it safe, I put it off until the 29th. This was the longest I’d gone without driving since I got my license when I was sixteen. I was honestly a little concerned as to whether I would be a little rusty, kind of like with the bicycle. But, we got in the truck, I fired her up, and we drove around town. It felt awesome. I took the long way around, hitting several detours in our route. I actually stalled the truck right out of the driveway, but beyond that one ‘oopsie’ I was like a fish in water.

My sleep schedule has become far more normal. My sense of balance is actually better than I was before. Another surprise is that I hear music more fully than I ever did before. I’ve always had an ear for music, but I’m hearing more fullness in the actual complexity to it now. Through several changes like that, I’m feeling phoenix-like, like I’ve emerged from the fire as a new creature. So, anyway, that’s where I am now. One day at a time.

The whole thing has been a nearly spiritual experience one I would advise avoiding, but spiritual no less. I have more firm belief now than ever before that my body is not me, and my brain is not my mind. My brain was doing its own thing during the event, and I had no part in the matter. Regaining my sense of balance, my vocabulary, my strength; that’s been through determination and a fight against the flesh. My spirit and mind may be attached to my body and brain, but this has driven home the point for me that your body and your brain are not who you are. I don’t want to be known as ‘the guy who had a seizure,’ but I do feel like a there’s a lot that other people could get out of the story, so that’s why I chose to share it.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 12: Fallout

If you didn’t read about why you shouldn’t look at your brain scan without your doctor, yesterday, check it out in Part 11.

Doc Neuro also offered to prescribe an anti-convulsive. I looked them up on Google, by name, naturally. They all have possible side effects. They don’t negatively affect everyone. For those whom they work, they seem to work really well. For others, they have some nasty side effects, usually mentally and emotionally. Weighing risks, it was a gamble one way or another.

Jennifer had told our tribe over the internet about my situation. Shortly thereafter, we decided it was time to take a trip to Texas to visit some of them. The town we visit, we meet up with LawDog, Phlegmmy, Peter, Miss D., and Old NFO. It’s a Branch Dividian type setup. The only reason that I say that, though, is that I’m just jealous that I don’t have a house on their block. It was a cathartic trip. LawDog hugged me tight and proclaimed, “Evyl, you had me so scared!” All weekend, he kept citing the statistic, “one in twenty people will have a random seizure, at some point in their live.”

Later, I was standing in front of Old NFO’s house, enjoying tobacco, and he interjected, “you has us all scared.”

To which I responded, “You think YOU were scared? Nobody was more scared than me!” *Insert laughter, puff tobacco.*

*Statically, as I understand it, a full five percent of the population will have a seizure at one time or another. There are ages when this is likely: early childhood, mid-life, and then elderly. It seems that I’m in that mid-life category. So, instead of getting a hot, young girlfriend and a new sports car, I got a seizure! Yay, me!

*Once you have a seizure, you have a 50/50 chance of having another one in the next six months. This is why you can’t legally drive for six months in Oklahoma (and many other states). For those six months, you’re a seizure risk. While I was not driving, I was cycling, and I pretty much stuck to sidewalks that had grass between them and the road. The last thing I wanted was to convulsively eject myself into traffic in front of a speeding truck. And, since I had my son with me most of the time, that would serve the added bonus of scarring him for life for seeing my demise played out as such.

*Two years is the home plate. Statistically, by the time you hit two years, your chances of having another seizure have gone down to 10%. Granted, that’s twice as likely as the general population’s 5%, but it’s odds that sound good enough that I’ll take and call it normal. A couple weeks after the event, my mom messaged me and asked me when I “would be clear” so she “could stop worrying.” Heh. I told her that she may as well stop worrying now, because “in the clear” is going to be in two years, and that’s relative, even then.

As I wrote before, that weekend I felt beat up, but I was functional. It was in the next few weeks that the weird stuff started up. I was tired all the time; downright exhausted. Two or three days a week, I could nap during the day. I’ve never been a ‘nap person.’ But, I’d get tired and put in six to eight hours of sleep during the day. And then, I’d still sleep all night. One day, Jennifer got home from work and I didn’t hear her arrive. I didn’t wake up until she came into our bedroom.

I said, “oh, did you get off work early?”

And, she said, “Um, no. It’s 6:30.”

“In the morning?”


“What day is this?”

I’ve heard from other people who have had seizures that this is not at all uncommon. At this point, I feel like I could sleep much like that, but I don’t feel like I need to anymore, which is a relief. Jennifer told me that if I need to sleep like that, please do, but also please give her a heads-up, so she’s prepared and doesn’t have an excuse to assume worse. Fair enough.

The word from Doc Neuro was that my brain looks normal. EEG, EKG, MRI, MRI with contrast, CT, CT with contrast all came out great. Don’t spend all your money in one place, right?

Tomorrow, we end the series in Part 13.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 11: Don’t Look at Your Own Head Scan Without a Pro

If you missed my experience with the MRI on Friday, it’s right here in Part 10.

So obviously, when we got home with the disk, we threw it in a laptop drive to see what we could see, like The Bear that Went Over the Mountain. The software to read the scan files was on the disk along with all of the scan files. Convenient. So, we looked at my brain. It looked like a brain. But, paranoia drew my eyes to the asymmetry.

“There’s this cavity on both sides of my brain, but it’s slightly larger on the left than the right! What does it mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?”

“…” Jennifer, “maybe it means your brain is broken and you’re insane.”

“That’s not really up for question, though, is it?”

When Jennifer drove me in for my EEG, I was obviously getting tired of tests, but trying to be a good sport and find the entertainment value. They’d told me that I had to get up at 6:00, no coffee, fast, and go in with clean hair, because they were going to stick a bunch of probes on my head. I did them one better and shaved my head the night before. The waiting room was small. Everything felt small. I felt small. There was another couple in the waiting room. He had one of those old lady walkers with the seat, and he was on an oxygen bottle. There was also a plant in the waiting room. I’m pretty sure there were magazines, but nothing that I wanted to read. After what seemed like an eternity waiting, I got called in. The tech/nurse/professional (I don’t even know what to call these people anymore) was a cute little black gal. She led the two of us to the testing room and directed me to a chair. Before she started wiring me up, she told Jennifer that she’d have to go back to the waiting room.

She started attaching the little sticky probe pads to my head, “clean shaved, making my day!”

“Well,” I said, “I usually keep it shaved. I was getting a little fuzzy, and I thought this might make your job easier.”

I knew that they’d put probes on my head. I do have Google, after all. But, I was thinking like six to eight probes. It took her a good twenty minutes to wire me up, because she stuck no fewer than a bajillion of those little sticker probes all over my head, my face, my neck, my chest… Why are you probing my nipples to scan my brain? the first part of the test was clearly to get me relaxed. She turned the lights off and told me to close my eyes. Get your brain out of the gutter. She did NOT light candles NOR put on romantic music. Next, I was instructed to hyperventilate. This also made sense. Brain, sleep deprived, no caffeine, relaxing, oxygenated. Sure, if they’re going to induce a seizure-like state so they can scan my brainwaves through my nipples, then all else they’d need is flashing lights, right? Oh. So, that was the next step. She had me close my eyes again and there was a strobe in my face that went at various intervals. The pattern got to the point that I knew what interval was coming next. Although my eyes were closed, the strobe was intense enough to see through my eyelids. Once the test was finally done, Jennifer drove me home.

I talked to Doc Neuro. He had The Disk in his computer in the examination room. We may or may not have copied said disk. Hey, we paid a lot of money for that disk! Spinning his mouse wheel, he noted, “yeah, your brain looks normal. It looks fine. And, these images are sharp! I can see you’ve got some sinus congestion, but you live in Oklahoma, and most of us have sinus congestion this time of year. I can prescribe something for that, if you’d like.”

To see what happened next, come back tomorrow for Part 12.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 10: MRI

If you missed how I got a recommendation to get an MRI yesterday, you can check that out in Part 9.

I called my aunt’s clinic and identified myself. The receptionist said, “I’ve been expecting your call,” and put me on hold. When I spoke with my aunt, she explained that she was really busy and that she was going to put me on with her scheduler. Her scheduler said they could work me in that afternoon at five.

“After close?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said, “but it’s okay.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t want to keep a rad tech late on my account. They should get home to their families, and I want their A-game for my health.”

So, I got an appointment later that week. At the imaging clinic, they have changing rooms. The magnet that powers an MRI is powerful enough that you can’t have anything metallic in the room. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t rip black ink out of your tattoo or tear the braces off a kid’s teeth, but metallic objects will affect imaging negatively. Put something ferrous enough in the vicinity and it will move stuff. I’ve heard rumored anecdotes of poorly planned MRI rooms that were sucking cars from parking spaces in basement parking and pulling oxygen bottles through walls. I don’t know how true any of that is, but we’re talking major magnetic power. So, I stripped down, put on their one-size-fits-all-and-so-fits-none-scrubs, left my jewelry and everything, and went in to get my MRI. The tech put a pillow around my head to keep me still and a Hannibal Lecter cage over my face.

“Are you claustrophobic?” she asked me.

I answered, “only extremely.”

Then she asked, “should I give you a Valium?”

“No, thank you,” I said, “no drugs, please.”

“Are you sure?”

“Very,” I said, “I’ll tough it out. I’ll be okay.”

She stuffed some ear plugs in my ears and cranked me into the scanner. They tell you to lay still in an MRI. I always thought that meant that you had to keep the part of your body that you are getting scanned still. Not so! Apparently, any movement in the room can screw up the imaging process. When scanning my head, I couldn’t wiggle my toes or it was messing up the scan. Who knew?!? She explained to me over the intercom that they were doing a battery of scans that would each be up to twenty minutes long, and asked if it would help if she told me when we were between scans.

“Yes! Good grief, yes! I’m a wiggly, squirmy dude. If I can have a break to stretch out between scans, we can make this easier for both of us!”

I understand that even a 1.5-Tesla machine is loud. The 3.0 is downright deafening. It sounds like this: “UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH click UNGH click UNGH click UNGH click UNGH click VEEEEEEEOOOOOOOHHHHHH UNGH click UNGH click UNGH click UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH” So on, and so forth. Finally, she used the winch to pull me back out of the machine. While I was still strapped in, Hannibal-style, she said she needed to give me the contrast fluid for round two.

“If you feel up to it,” she said.

“Um,” I said, “do I have a choice?” strapped down, at her mercy.

“Of course you do,” she said.

“I just had a CT scan with contrast. They dumped a Home Depot caulk gun of silicone into me for that.”

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “yeah, that takes a lot! This is different.”

From under my Hannibal mask, I raised an eyebrow, “how much?”

“What do you weigh?” she asked.


I could see her doing the math in her head. I was thinking that I could pretty easily bust through the restraints and make a run for the door. Yeah, I’d miss my jewelry, and those are pretty nice jeans I left in the changing room, but you know, I’m getting tired of all of this. When she told me what the dosage was it was like 5cc or less. I don’t remember the exact number.

“Let’s do this thing,” I said.

She pulled the syringe and drew the contrast fluid. That didn’t look so bad.

“you know,” I commented, trying to keep it conversational, “not only am I claustrophobic, and I hate to be still, but I also have a deep hatred for needles.”

She was sweet. She offered, “we can stop if you want.”

“I’ve come this far,” I said, “I may as well see it through.”

So, I turned my head, as best as I could within the restraints, and got a needle in the arm again. For the record, the scarring has healed and I no longer look like a heroin addict. She pushed the button and conveyor-belted me into the belly of the giant magnet again. “UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH chick chock chick chock UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH UNGH” It occurred to me that I have some really comfy pajama pants at home; not the used-a-million-times-by-strangers scrubs in a size XX-huge, but they have a drawstring, but Oakly-branded fuzzy pants that fit nicely. But, I was about done, so moot point. Side note: I’m also sensitive to magnetic fields. I know that the point was to align the molecules in my head so they could capture a 3D image of my brain, but that much focused magnetic field screws with my head. But anyway, round two was only like fifteen minutes, to my great joy!

“You made it!” she said as she reeled me out of my prison and started removing my restraints, “I’m so proud of you!”

I smiled at her and said, “that was the worst Nine Inch Nails concert I’ve ever been to!”

The look on her face told me she didn’t get the joke. Damn. Not only was that a good one, but when will I ever get a chance to deliver it again?

She asked when I was to see Doc Neuro again, “do I need to make sure he gets the scans, or can I just burn a disk for you to take with you?”

Jennifer and I looked at each other conspiratorially and said in unison, “burn a disk.”

Next week, this series will come to a close, starting on Monday, when there will be yet more radiation exposure in Part 11.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 9: More G*******d Doctors

Here’s Part 8, if you missed it yesterday.

I called the neurologist’s office. The receptionist was *ahem* unwelcoming.

“We don’t take referrals from the ER,” she huffed.

I replied, “I’m personal friends with the doctor. We went to church together and were in the same Sunday School class for quite a few years.”

“Well,” she said, “I’ll just have to ask him about that.”

She took my information. I received a call back from her a couple hours later, and her tone was significantly more positive, “yes, Mr. Robot? We can work you in on Thursday.”

“Thank you.”

My test results were trickling in. It seemed slow at first, but it was probably a lot quicker than I think, in all fairness. Everything happened so fast, but the want for answers makes everything grind to a perceptive crawl. My blood pressure had been high in the ER (135/96), which is odd, because my BP has always been low. ER Doc had said that my chest X-Ray “looks beautiful. My CT scans were clean, and my urinalysis was good. There were a couple of blips in my blood work, but nothing too worrisome. In a word, they couldn’t really find anything that might have caused a seizure. Jennifer took off work and took me to see the neurologist.

Doc Neuro had a stern, sincerely concerned look on his face. He greeted me and shook my hand. He had me walk around the examination room. “The sobriety test?” I asked.” (BTW, I’ve never had do do one of those roadsides, FWIW.)

He chuckled uncomfortably, “pretty much.”

I sat on the table. He whacked my knees with the little mallet. It tickled and it was so funny to watch my reflexes working. I actually tried to resist, but it didn’t help. This made me giggle. Doc Neuro said that he wanted an EEG, which they could do right there in the office, and that he wanted to see an MRI. I was a little surprised that the CT with contrast wasn’t good enough. “It can be a little tough to get in for an MRI, but I can get you a referral,” he said.

I countered, “my aunt owns an imaging clinic here in the city. I’m pretty sure I can get in there.”

The common, going MRI runs on a 1.5-Tesla magnet. When my aunt set up shop, she sprung for the 3.0-Tesla machine, which produces far higher resolution images.

“Tell her to not bother,” said Doc Neuro, “the higher resolution can be nice, but sometimes that level of clarity muddies the issue. 1.5 is fine.” But, that’s what my aunt has. He offered to prescribe an anti-convulsive, but I was hesitant. He said that if I changed my mind, he’s go ahead and write a prescription after the fact. After looking up possible side effects, I decided that I didn’t really want to do that unless I really felt like I was going to have another seizure.

While I was putting my socks and shoes on to gather up and leave, Doc Neuro stormed back in and shoved a half a piece of notebook paper at me with, “154/94” scrawled on it. “That’s too high,” he declared. I knew my blood pressure was too high. For the last couple of weeks my blood was boiling. I could freaking feel my pulse at any given time. My veins have always stood out on my arms ever since my teens, but at this time, I could look at my arm and watch my pulse. I knew it was too high. That seizure. Of course my BP was up. My jaw was popping and I don’t know that I didn’t crack a tooth in there. When your brain goes haywire for a few minutes and tells every muscle cell in your body to go into high mode, your bones and teeth grind, and your BP goes nuts too. For what it’s worth, my blood pressure has gone back to normal by now.

Doc Neuro ordered another blood work. Great. More needles. I hate needles. We went to the lab for the blood work. They got me right in. The phleb who stuck me was really good, but she did make fun of me for how I reacted to the needle. Come on, lady! I’ve got track marks now! You people are making my right arm into a pin cushion! I half expected her to give me a lollipop for my bravery.

Tomorrow, we’ll learn what it’s like to get a brain MRI in Part 10.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 8: The Weekend

If you didn’t get to read about my visit to the ER, you can catch up on Part 7.

Before it was even bright and early, on Saturday, April 29, 2017, we loaded up our photo gear in a friend’s pickup. He drove us as well as one of our neighbors, whom we’d drafted to the team, and we all headed out to the fairgrounds. A tornado had hit the venue overnight. Trees were torn asunder. There was an arch that was a miniaturized version of the famous one in St. Louis. Was. For half a century that thing was a landmark there. Nature decided to flatten it. There are pics. The building had quite a bit of water in it, and an overhead door next to our main stage had been blown off its tracks. We had no power. Vendors and exhibitors had set up the day before, but they wandered around in the dark and hovered over their wares, guarding against looters in the dark; not a bad idea, but we didn’t have looters present. Local law enforcement was blocking con-goers from the grounds. It took some doing, some creative detouring for even we, officials, to get in. We got some interesting pics in the dark arena. When your cam rig is rocking clean ISO 12,800 and lenses ranging from f1.4 to 2.0, they don’t care that it’s dark. We weren’t there for very long. There was no point in it. Some plucky con-attendees made it to the building, but we were obviously turning them away at the door. It was heart-breaking. “Evyl, why do you carry a flashlight?” Um, this. This is why. Why don’t YOU have a flashlight in your pocket? We went home. The rest of Saturday is fuzzy. We got the car home and secured gear. I assume we ate something and went to bed. There was a party Saturday night, but we didn’t go.

When I crossed paths with our friend, she kissed me on the cheek, squeezed me and said, “loves you!”

I hugged her in return, “loves you!”

The con on Sunday was awesome, if also trying. The crowd of attendees was amazing. The vendors were out in full-force and having a great time. I admit that I purchased some really wonderful items, as did Jennifer. I didn’t get the quantity nor quality of photos that I wanted to, but I’ll fairly give myself a pass there. As you can imagine, I was feeling slightly less than perfectly steady. Playing ‘make up for lost time’ went well. I’d patched together a camera tripod dolly out of an old lady walker and some random hardware store parts that I broke out for a little while for some time lapse work. It did feel good to finally be shooting with a camera setup that I was confident with, Jennifer with her twin to mine, and our son with his upgraded DSLR as well. I put my hands in there. As with years previous, I visually documented, but I also got in and did the labor required of the volunteer group. Every time I bumped into the ball pit kid, who was there when I went down, he looked like he was looking at a ghost. At some point over the weekend, Jennifer told me that she had to wipe blood and bile off my face and ear before I came to, and that it was like I was trying to hit myself. Later, there was a nasty, blue and green bruise that blossomed on the inside of my right thigh shaped like knuckles. Yeah.
It had been a lot worse than I had realized.

Over the weekend, I didn’t feel that bad, but I felt like someone had beat me up. It wasn’t just a feeling. I had beat me up. My tongue hurt where I’d bitten it. Nobody would have blamed me for sitting out the weekend, but it was important for me to be there. For one, these friends of mine needed to see that it didn’t take me down. For two, I wasn’t going to miss out on the weekend. I have no regrets. I had a fight with my brain. And, I won.

Tomorrow, I’ll start getting into follow up medical appointments in Part 9.