Welcome Back, Kata!

I have had some great pleasure over the last 8 years or so reconnecting with some old friends via Facebook. I don’t consider myself to be a social media addict but Facebook has reconnected me with friends from the Navy, high school, or relatives who live far away that I have not seen in many years. Some of them, I may possibly have lost contact with forever had it not been for the Internet and social media or, at the very least, it would have been much hard to track down these connections or for them to find me.

About 3 months ago, I was searching for a friend from high school named Jeff. First, I should provide some history. Jeff graduated about 6 years ahead of me. He then went on to be the instructor for my high school’s karate club. A mutual friend brought me to a karate club meeting after school one day during my 9th grade year. Since I was a first time visitor, Jeff gave me some individual attention. My first lesson was to never address Jeff as “sensei” (teacher). The reason why was that Jeff, while very learned in karate, was not a black belt in karate. Sensei was reserved for black belts. Jeff then taught me chudan oi zuki (middle lunge punch). He taught me how to hold my fist (thumb tucked inward) and to punch from the hip. He explained this way: “If I punch you with my arm, it won’t hurt much. If Lou Ferrigno punches you with his arm, it will hurt like crazy BUT not as much as if he had put his hip into the punch.” Clearly, Jeff understood the use of humor as a teaching tool which clicked very well with me. After practice, since several of us did not have access to a car, Jeff drove us all home. This was very generous given that several of the students lived on the other side of town. Over time, I would find that the generosity of Jeff’s time knew few boundaries.

Over the course of my sophomore and junior years in high school, I continued in karate club whenever it did not conflict with my first obligation which was drama club. Jeff was kind enough not to give me grief over giving theater priority over karate as he understood my passion for it. He simply welcomed me into every karate class I could attend. When I got my driver’s license, I would even visit Jeff at his home as he had become as much of a friend as an instructor. Many visits would result in us practicing a kata (formal exercise). Jeff even wrote out the steps of several different kata on a legal pad one day to help me retain the steps better. Again, his generosity knew few boundaries.

As my senior year if high school was approaching, Jeff moved from our town of Savannah, GA to the Atlanta area. Soon after, he was married and he had a son. He called me at Christmas time that year to catch up and tell me about his son and wife. The following spring, I went with some friends to Six Flags Over Georgia. Later that day, we met up with Jeff at his apartment. It would be the last time I saw him before I left to join the Navy.

Two years later, I was out of the Navy and living in the Atlanta area with my parents. Jeff was one of the first people I looked up. As it turned out, Jeff lived with his wife and son in an apartment that was less than 5 minutes from my parents house. I could not believe the blessing. Jeff and I bonded all over again. His wife was always nothing short of hospitable.

Of the next year and a half that followed, I was also married with 3 step children (my first wife had three kids from a previous marriage). Eventually, I moved to western New York (to my ex wife’s home town) for a fresh start. Jeff and I lost contact after that.

Fast forward to around September 2016, I searched for Jeff on Facebook. I had searched previously to no avail. I happened to recall his son’s name and searched for him instead. PAYDIRT! I sent a message to his son to confirm I had found the right person. Within the next several days. Jeff sent me a friend request on Facebook. I would find out that his son had not yet read the message I sent. Jeff coincidentally found me through a mutual friend. His presence could not have come at a better time. I had been laid off from my job. Plus, between August and December 2016, my wife and I faced the death of 10 friends, family members, or other loved ones. This would sadly, include a close high school friend and the aforementioned ex-wife. IN short, I was a wreck and reconnecting with Jeff was like hitting the play button on a song that had been paused for 30 years. Not a single note was missed.

One day, Jeff presented me with a challenge. The challenge was to do a kata every day. In spite of my obesity (or perhaps because of it), I was intrigued by the idea. He then added that we were to do the same kata 5 times per day every day for 6 days. After a day of rest on the 7th day, the cycle would start again. I figured if Jeff was willing to do it in spite of some severe orthopedic issues. I had no excuse not to participate.

The kata is 20 steps and takes about 40 seconds on the average. The first several days, I nearly fell trying to remember the steps and perform them correctly. As always, Jeff never judged. He always provided support and encouragement. He reminded me to do the steps as well as I can. Master Gichin Funakoshi, who basically created the form of karate that Jeff studies (Shotokan), has a very simple adage: “Each to their own ability”. The goal is simply to be better at karate today than you were yesterday.

I cannot begin to tell you the benefit that this challenge and connection has provided for Jeff and me alike. Every morning, we bond from 1000 miles away. We even drafted a long range plan and have used Facebook to share the challenge for others across the globe. Several people close to Jeff or me have joined the challenge.  I post daily on Facebook with my progress. Jeff provides input and support on my posts. He knows the technique. I help to communicate our challenge with the world. We are connected and in tune with one another. Like Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Simmons and Stanley, Maurice and Verdine, peanut butter and jelly, or RC cola and a moon pie; Jeff and Shane go well together. I’ll keep you all posted over time with the progress. If you’d like to join the challenge, feel free to add a comment. I can provide some basic information to get you started. OSU!

241 years of Tradition Gets Tossed Overboard.

For those of you who may not know this, I am a Navy veteran. I did not serve in combat. Unlike, many of my Navy peers I did not see the world, Barring six months in training, the farthest I got from home in my two year stint was Camp LeJeune, NC. Nevertheless, I am proud to have served my country and my Navy service gave me a jump start into manhood that likely would have taken the spoiled 18 year that I was much longer to achieve. Just 6 months into my Navy career, I was working as a Hospital Corpsman in a Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at the Navy Hospital in Charleston, SC. alongside some of the finest corpsmen, nurses and doctors.

I realize that time brings on some harsh transitions. The Navy base in Charleston, SC closed in 1996. The hospital where I served closed in 2010. In March 2016, the hospital building was facing foreclosure. Any opportunity I would wish to have to roam the 9th floor of that hospital and envision the lives that were saved by all the personnel, before and after me, are long gone. Again, some of these things just happen with the passage of time.

Still, there are SOME changes that I just find very hard to digest. Case in point, the consensus of Ray Mabus (Secretary of the Navy) and Admiral John Richardson (Chief of Naval Operations) to dispense with all 91 of its enlisted ratings titles. The full story can be found by clicking here. The enlisted ratings system had been a Navy tradition for 241 (as old as our nation itself).  To explain the ratings system for those who are not familiar, in addition to an enlisted rank, enlisted personnel were also identified by their rating (occupational code). A list of the enlisted ratings can be found here. For example, at  the time of my discharge (1986), I was an E-3. My rating was HM (Hospital Corpsman). Therefore, my rank/ranking was shown as hospitalman. Again, this indicated, that I was an E-3 Hospital Corpsman. A Navy Photographer had a rating of PH. If said photographer was a 1st Class Petty Officer (E-6) then Joe Sailor would be identified as PH1 sailor (Photographer 1st Class).

I realize  that may sound very convoluted to someone outside of the Navy but it was a great way to see how each person fit into the organizational that is the Navy. It was a great icebreaker. As a corpsman working in a hospital, we got patients of all ranks and ratings. FT2 Smith (not his real name) would get admitted to our unit. I could look at his rating and see he was a Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Petty Officer. Once I got his patient history, I could ask him questions about his job. This not only gave me a glimpse into FT2 Smith’s world, it had great potential of putting the patient at ease from a (most likely) heart related incident that cause his admission.

Those involved in the decision say that this change will help to ease  the transition into civilian life. HUH? HOW, PRAY TELL, DOES THIS HELP SUCH A TRANSITION? Is Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Smith somehow more impeded from getting that civil service job with the county fire department than if he were simply identified as @nd Class Petty Office Smith. I truly DO NO GET IT Secretary Mabus. After all, you served in the Navy for as long (or as little) as I did and reached the distinguished rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. I am speculating that you served in the Navy long enough to pay the government back for your college education. I have no problem with that at all in and of itself. How such tenure makes you an appropriate choice for Secretary of the Navy is strange to me but, hey, that’s politics for you.

I can only suspect that your doctorate from Harvard Law School left very little room for your to remember such trivial information as what your distinguished enlisted Navy personnel actually DO to serve their country. Let me put it to you simply Secretary Mabus, I was not just an E-3. I was a HOSPITAL CORPSMAN. By rank, I was a HOSPITALMAN and I WAS VERY PROUD OF MY JOB. It made me part of who I was in the world’s finest Navy. Perhaps, you should step down Mr. Secretary (after you repeal this decision).Perhaps, you can spend your years working at an American Legion Hall as a BINGO announcer. This way, you can continue to serve our military and only have to worry about saying things like: “B-8, I-17, O-21”. At the most, you have to deal with four syllables. Be sure to properly acknowledge the winner: “Congratulations, BM1 Jones. Thank you for your service.”

 

Karaoke Night: The Microphone Is Yours

I am sitting here this weekend and my mind is taking a great roam down memory lane. Sometimes, it is a pleasant stroll. Other times, it is a painful run that does me good in the long term but, in the moment, is nothing short of unpleasant. I think I will at least try to start in the former category.

In the fall of 1985, I was serving as a hospital corpsman in the US Navy in South Carolina. I lived in an apartment off base with two other corpsmen. I was not quite 20 years old and, occasionally, my roommates and I  had two primarily goals: have some laughs and have some fun. Sometimes, in the pursuit of such laughs and fun, I could be a bit of an immature troll but I never truly meant any offense or harm.

One night, we had a party and invited a few friends from the hospital. One of my roommates was soon accompanied by his girlfriend. I had seen her a few times before. She had big, permed hair (it WAS the 80’s) and a noticeable “Yankee” accent. She was a few years older, divorced, and had three kids (Jennifer, Melinda, and Stephen) who were occasionally seen running around the complex (especially when the ice cream man showed up).

Everything was going nicely this evening. Not a lot of people showed up for the party. The moment came when I started to introduce my roommate’s girlfriend to my date. I then realized that I didn’t actually know her name. You see, among her other features, she had a somewhat prominent nose. It wasn’t freakish, just prominent. So how did I address her prior to this awkward introduction?  I normally called her “Pinocchio”. Like I said, I was a bit of an immature troll. She enjoyed me squirming in the awkwardness and then introduced herself to my date: “I’m JoAnn.”

I would also come to find out quickly enough that JoAnn had something else very significant in her life – Type I diabetes. This meant that, several times a day, she was poking her finger with a small needle (to check her blood sugar levels), then using a syringe with another small needle to inject insulin into her body (to keep the “balance scale” of sugar and insulin as even as possible). Many times her sugar levels would become very unstable which would result in a several day stay in the hospital.

Life, as they say, goes on. Within the next year, I was out of the Navy. JoAnn and I had kept in touch and eventually become a couple. Well, let’s be honest, I stole my roommate’s girlfriend (another immaturely trollish decision). I had relocated to Atlanta after my discharge but would occasionally drive to South Carolina and visit with JoAnn and her three kids (with whom I had also bonded). It was quite an adjustment sometimes being barely 20 years old, barely into adulthood, and being in a relationship with an older woman with three kids. I would still make jokes about her nose and comments about “generation gap”.  JoAnn, on the other hand, loved the occasional discomfort I would feel about clearly being the youngest adult in the room.

By early 1987, JoAnn accepted a civil service job in the Atlanta area. 5 months later, we were married. I was still adjusting somewhat to post military life. Things would get rocky over the next year. We relocated to Western New York (where JoAnn grew up) partly as a means of giving our life together a fresh start. I was a Southern fish out of water. Over the next two years, we would have two more children in our lives and a house of our own.

Unfortunately, as it happens to many, we would divorce a few years later. I have since re-married and our kids have grown.  Things would get tense over the years but in the end, we learned to adapt. JoAnn would occasionally babysit my two younger kids (Brianna and Caleb) while my wife, Renee, and I were at work. We would share in the joy of seeing several of the seven children (in total) grow up, graduate, get married, and have children. I served as pallbearer for both of Joann’s parents at the times of their passing.. When my mother passed away, JoAnn was one of the first people to call me and extend her condolences. Whenever Joann and I had occasion to share each other’s company, she would be very quick to tell me (and everyone present) how much she enjoyed my writing and tell me I should have my own column.

Of course, nature of the beast that is diabetes, the hospital stays would get more frequent and more severe with every passing year. Joann had many close calls. Most recently, I was notified by my older son that JoAnn had a severe heart attack. My wife and I visited Joann several times at the hospital over the following weeks. Early on a Thursday morning, my older daughter called me. Her voice began to crack as she said: “I don’t have great news, Dad.” Joann’s heart grew tired and she passed away. I stood there in the hospital as the kids I had watched grow into adulthood said goodbye to their mother. I know that feeling all too well and would not wish upon anyone. The last thing I said to her before I left was: No more hospitals! No more injections!

One of the things that all of us who gathered at the hospital remember and cherished about JoAnn was that she loved to sing. One of the kids even joked that there was surely a karaoke machine in Heaven just for her. I would ask this of anyone who reads this and can relate to someone they know who struggles with diabetes. Please consider a donation to the American Diabetes Association (https://donations.diabetes.org/) to fund research efforts to find a cure. If you do make that donation, please also consider singing your favorite song out loud. After all, karaoke is for all to enjoy.

Joann, Thanks for the memories, your support of my education (and my writing), and your willingness to co-parent with Renee and me. Most of all, thanks for putting up with an immature troll with a warped mind. The microphone is yours. You pick the song.

Remembering Momma: Simply A Shift Of Tense.

10 years ago today, my Dad called me to tell me that he was purchasing an airline ticket for my wife and me for the worst reason. Our bags were already packed. Less than an hour later, my Dad called me again. It had happened. My mother, Norma Jean McAfee, had passed away at 65. It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years. Some years are harder than others. These past couple of days have been a punch in the gut.

Momma, I miss you terribly. Having said that, I often look in the mirror, at my wife, at my kids, and at my grandson and YOU ARE THERE. When I had my TIA, as I lied inside an MRI machine, you were there. When Taelor took his first steps and said his first words, you were there. When Shayna got married and I walked her down the aisle, you were there (likely amused with my kilt). When Tom got married and I was introduced as Father of the Groom, you were there (likely shaking your head and giggle about my clown makeup). When my wife and I walked across the commencement stage together, you were there (I even said “Hi, Mom!” on the stage). I would not have obtained that degree without your inspiration and influence.

As easy as it is to recognize all the moments you WERE there in the last 10 years, I must remember that in many moments where you ARE STILL THERE. Every time Brianna sees a butterfly, you are there. She even bought a solar powered one that flaps its wings on the dashboard of my car. As Caleb becomes more and more independent, you are there. Every time I write one of these essays, you are SO THERE (to the point where I can almost feel your presence sometimes). I hate that I cannot share my writing with you face to face but you are still very much…THERE.

Most importantly, I need to remember that, in so many ways, you will STILL BE THERE. As Renee’s education and mine lead to new endeavors, you will be there with each of us finding out where our respective roads will lead. You will be there as each of the kids move on with their adult lives (watching in wonder alongside me). You will be there as your great-grandson, Taelor-James, continues to grow into the young mighty warrior that he has been since birth. Every time, I walk the boardwalk along the Genesee River, the harbor off of Lake Ontario, or the trails along the Erie Canal, you will be there. With every day that I wake up and pledge to do something about my weight, you will be there (as you understand that struggle better than anyone I know).

Yes, Momma. I miss you terribly. But I know, as you would poignantly point out to me, this is all just a matter of shift the tense: you were there, you are there, and you will be there. You have never truly left me. I know you will be there again…soon. I may not realize it until after the fact or even expect it (in spite of all the aforementioned examples). All the same, I can’t thank you enough for teaching when to shift the tense. I look forward to seeing the next shift.

[Note: Before I had a chance to post this, you were there. Once again, you came in the form of a butterfly in our backyard while Brianna played with Taelor. Thanks for visiting, Momma.]

From Henrietta Town Hall to the Commencement Stage: Part Two (What’s Stopping You?)

 

Hello, Folks! Well, I once again have another college semester behind me. I promised myself that I would do more blog writing once the semester was over. Admittedly, I got caught up in some other stuff over the last few weeks. Nevertheless, here I am again. I have truly missed sharing my life with you all.

I am sure that many of you who have read my pieces previously, you noticed the words “commencement stage” in the title. Yup, it’s another graduation piece. I know some of you are taking some pause at this. Yes, I have written commencement pieces for two kids who have graduated high school, a daughter who has graduated college, and a wife who graduated with a Bachelor’s in 2013. After all of those graduations, I know you are wondering who it is that’s graduating this time. Well, folks…I AM! To add icing to this proverbial cake, MY WIFE IS GRADUATING TOO (IN THE SAME CEREMONY)!!!! That’s right!. My college studies have been completed. My wife and I are having our commencement on 12 June 2016. We are both graduating from Empire State College. I have completed my Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communications. My wife has earned her Master’s degree in Social  and Public Policy.

I should clarify that my wife and I didn’t exactly plan to attend college at the same time. I began pursing my bachelor’s in 2010. In 2012, as my wife was nearing the end of her Bachelor studies, we moved to our current home. I was dealing with the logistics of the move, part time college, and full time work. Juggling it all was a bit much to say the least. After some personal reflection, I decided, with my wife’s support to drop the classes I was taking and take the rest of the semester to settle in from the move.

Fast forward nearly 18 months later. My wife had graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. Things were settling in our new place which included our adult son and daughter plus a grandson who was born in 2012. I figured this was an opportune time to discuss with my wife my return to finishing my Bachelor’s degree. After all, I had stopped in 2012. 2014 was around the corner. Then, my wife dropped a bomb.

Try to picture this. I am sitting in our living room. I am talking with my wife and was literally within seconds of uttering my next words to discuss the subject. Before, I even got a breath out, my wife said: “I’ve been thinking. I should go back to school and get my Master’s degree.” I was floored. I sat there, like a deer in the headlights, not knowing how to respond. When my wife asked what was wrong, I explained that I wanted to talk to her about returning to school myself. Without hesitation, she asked: “What’s stopping you?”

I expressed concerns about us both studying at the same time and the toll that could take on our quality time together. She reminded me that we were already doing that when I halted my studies in the first place. What can I say? My wife had once again shown herself to be someone with amazing insight.

We did encounter a few bumps in the road during the course of our academic journey (as life is known to provide). We were blessed to see, not just one, but two of our kids get married. We have welcomed a grandson into the world. We have watched our daughter battle the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.  We have endured the heartbreak of several funerals. In November 2015, I had a mild stroke. Less than a month later, my wife had spinal fusion surgery which brings a slow but worthwhile recovery.

A couple of these bumps hit so hard that it delayed my wife’s graduation. Like I said, it never occurred to us that we would be in the same commencement ceremony. It just happened that way. We dealt with life’s proverbial lemons and made the lemonade as potable as possible. I can say, with no undue modesty, that I don’t think my wife and I are particularly any more special than another other married couple. Some couples just go to the movies together. We went to college.

In closing, I want to first address my lovely queen, Renee. Baby, you and I got married 22 years ago. We have reared kids to adulthood. We are blessed with a grandson. This commencement you and I are sharing together is one of the most amazing bonding experiences I can ever hope to share with you. I am so proud of what you have accomplished. Even more, I am blessed to have you by my side as I pursue my accomplishments.

Lastly, I want to ask my readers. Do you have a venture you are considering? Are you looking to pursue a higher education for yourself? Are you looking to make a career change? What are the obstacles that you see? In other words, as my wife so insightfully asked: “What’s stopping you?” Bumps in the road WILL come. Detours will happens. The thing to remember is…it’s a detour…NOT a stop sign.

 

 

Houston, We Have Contacts

Throughout my childhood, I remember some very distinguishing features about my mother. She struggled with her weight most of her adult life. She was a master of diplomacy. She had a laugh that was from one extreme or the other: the silent shaking giggle or the sound of a hyper-caffeinated  kookaburra (both were simply infectious). She regularly tinted her hair due to getting her first grey streak at 12 years old.  The most distinctive feature of Momma was her glasses. Momma first started wearing glasses when she was 8 years old. Almost every picture of Momma from early childhood well into her adult years showed her wearing her glasses. When she took them off, she truly looked like a different person. They were almost as much of an identifying feature as the green eyes they corrected.

When I was about 9 years old, my mother made an investment. She got contact lenses. Bear in mind, this was around 1975. Contacts were probably much more an expensive investment when you compare them to the relative costs in 2016. They were hard lenses. This fact alone brought other considerations. If you looked at her from the side, you could actually see the edge of the contact lens resting upon her eyes. Sometimes, that was neat. Sometimes, it was weird. Since I found weirdness neat, that was cool to me. Also, because they were hard lenses, that meant that an unfortunate bump or a well intentioned pat on the back would result in everyone in the room assuming a freeze frame position while my mother searched on her hands and knees for the missing lens. Offers to help were  politely declined. You see, the more people that moved, the greater risk of hearing an awful crunch. It was worse than the sound of stepping on a cockroach. Why? Cockroaches are free (gross but free). A crunching lens sent Momma back to horn-rimmed purgatory until she could replace the lens. 

The upside of all of this is that Momma was no longer tethered to her glasses. Contact lenses don’t clash with a dress, or shoes or a haircut. Contact lenses offer much greater freedom of mobility. Cooking with contact lenses is much easier as there is little risk of the lenses fogging up. Cook burgers or fried chicken with eyeglasses and they get messy in a hurry. Rainy days down South present the same fogging problem but not with contact lenses. That’s a lot of freedom.

Over the years, heredity took its toll. I have always said that I inherited my father’s looks but my mother’s medical issues. I struggle with my weight (though not as much as my scale does). I starting getting grey hair in my early 30’s. Like Momma, I also have struggled with high blood pressure for years. Then, it happened. In 1999, at the age of 33, I wound up getting my first pair of glasses. By the time I was 45, I began wearing bifocals. When I invested in my glasses, I tended to invest big. I always bought glasses that reacted to light when I was out in the sun and changed again when I went back indoors. I bought progressive, high definition, bifocal lenses. It was expensive but it greatly improved my quality of life.

17 years went by and, all that time, I was totally resistant to wearing contacts. This was in spite of the fact that many of my friends and two of my kids wore contacts. Why? I’m a grown man but I just did not like the idea of sticking my finger in my eye on a daily basis.

I reached the age of 50 and decided to make some changes. Among other ventures, I decided to get contacts. It was time to man up for the sake of vanity and freedom. Plus, the technology behind contact lenses had changed dramatically since my mother started wearing them. Lenses are now soft, and flexible, and more form fitting. People with bifocal vision have  much greater options for contacts. It was time to make the move.

This venture required an eye exam and a training class. The training class shows new contact lens wearer how to properly clean and store the lenses. The training also shows how to insert and remove the contact lenses. The trainer demonstrated but putting her left hand over the top eye and pulling it upward. Meanwhile, the lens is rested on the index finger of the right hand while the rest of the right hand fingers hold the bottom eyelid open. It took me nearly 30 minutes of using this Clockwork Orange technique to get the lens onto my eyeball (and have it stay there). Time and time again, I would drop the lens (or it would fall out of my eye). I then had to clean the lens and start this process all over again. My trainer told me this happens with all new wearers and not to be discouraged.  Plus, these were trial lenses. They were my visual training wheels.

For the first week, I would wear my glasses to work then wear my lenses until bedtime. The time it took to get the lenses in and out was shorter. Eye drops became a quick necessity as putting the lenses in and out can irritate the eyes. I know why the medical abbreviation for drops is gtt. That’s the sound you make when the drops hit your eyeball. OK. LOOKING UP! HERE WE GO! HERE WE GO! GTT!

Then one day, I had the worst contact lens experience. I wore my contacts to work that day. I had to leave early and report for jury duty. I was excused after several hours and went home. Apparently, at some point, my right lens fell out without me realizing it. There was a bigger problem than a missing lens. The fact that I didn’t realize it was gone meant that I was rubbing my index finger against my eyeball, over and over again, trying to remove a lens that was not actually there. So this meant I had a lost lens and the feeling of being totally absent minded. On top of all of this, people in public were pulling their kids away from me because they thought I had pink eye. I got a lot of stares in that restaurant. I DID think it was kind of rude for them to insist that I get a take out order.

My trainer gave me new lenses but also went with a different brand. This was a night and day experience. The lenses went on far more easily than the previous pair. I got better vision results. The lenses were also less expensive over the course of a year than the previous pair. Talk about your WIN-WIN.

I’m really looking forward to the freedoms these lenses will offer. I can ride my bike without worrying if the wind or the wrong lean will send them flying. I can tap dance. I can slam dance. I can work the parallel bars. I have never done any of those three things before but, BY GOLLY, if I want to I WILL. It’s a small step for me. It’s one giant leap for my eyeballs. HOLD ON, WORLD! I’M COMING! (and I can see you).

Transient? I Don’t Think So! Part V: Moving On

The next day in the hospital would test me a great deal. I’m not just being figurative here. There were more blood tests. An occupational therapist got me up and walking. She was nice enough. She walked me around the ward. She even had me walk up and down one flight of stairs. Toward the end of my walk, my legs started to feel a little rubbery. That was not a feeling I was expecting. Fortunately, it was not a far walk back to my room. By the time I got back to bed, I had an awful headache.

My wife, Renee, showed up and was waiting for me when I got back from my walk. The nurse got me something for my headache. Renee, however, brought something from the house that I REALLY needed: my clown nose. I had become obsessed with clowning recently. I had even dressed as a clown for my son’s Halloween wedding.  I was REALLY happy to see that nose.

Later that day, a technician came in to perform an echocardiogram. In short, they use sound waves to take pictures of the chambers of my heart. They were ruling out cardiac damage that could have contributed to the symptoms I had the morning before. I turned my head to my right so the technician could get a better position for the test. When she wasn’t looking, I out on my clown nose. I turned my head as she was wrapping up the test. When the technician saw my nose, she started giggling.Man, I really needed that nose.

The next day, a doctor came in to review all my findings and prepare me for discharge. All of the tests came up negative for any damage to my heart or my brain. Once again, I put my clown nose on while the doctor was talking to me. It really helped to break the tension. In short, the doctor told me that there was no “smoking gun” to explain why I experienced the symptoms I had that morning. He also told me that just because there was no smoking gun did not mean that a bullet didn’t come flying through my house that morning. That actually made me feel better. It assured me that what happened that morning was real and no one (including myself) was over-reacting to what happened. Actually, my wife and daughter probably prevented a much worse situation by reacting so quickly.

I left the hospital on that day.The doctor gave me orders to wait a week before returning to work. Physical issues aside, I was relieved to have that time to try and process what happened to me. As it turns out, there were other things that required adjustment. My diagnosis – I had a TIA. That stands for transient ischemic attack. In short, I had a brief, mild intermittent stroke. Those were two words right there that would pop into my head every single day: TIA and stroke. When I had my first follow up at the stroke clinic (there’s that word again), the doctor threw another one at me. He said I had a “left hemispheric event”. George Carlin was right. The more syllables you use, the less serious it seems.

The week I spent at home was also an adjustment in other ways. On the third day, I thought I would try to run a personal errand at a  nearby store. Somewhere around aisle six, my legs got that rubbery feeling again. I decided not to push my luck and go home. When I got home, my wife and daughter both told me I was not happy for “sneaking out” by myself. They were right. I had snuck out and I was taking a foolish risk.

Over time, I would return to work. I would have follow up visits. I basically assimilated into my normal routine prior to my “left hemispheric event” (that just sounds funny when I say that). My follow up visits show that I am clean as a whistle (minus the need to drop some pounds). I still get the headaches. The doctor said those are quite normal given the experience. I have an implant in my chest that tracks my heart rhythm. I just received a report form my cardiologist that my heart rhythm is normal. I still hear the words TIA and stroke every single day. I have to be OK with that.

Simply put, I have to learn from my history, work to improve my health (lose the weight), and otherwise…just move on. I couldn’t control when it happened before. I can (and will) work to improve my health and reduce my chances of letting it happen again. Still, I can’t obsess over it too much. I will have some days where moving on will be easier than others. Still, moving slow is still moving forward.