Thursday, May 28, 2015

Five not-so-easy pieces

I'm not going to lie. Those baby shots were brutal, man, brutal.

There were five of them in all and each had its own needle. For some reason, I thought multiple shots these days were given by one those Star Trek-type needless; you know... multiple needles on one head, requiring only one actual shot. I mean, I knew it wasn't going to duplicate the show's pain-free process , but I still thought medicine had taken a few steps forward since the first time I got these shots, mostly back in the 1950s. The 1950s, people, Everything was black and white and I had to wear a shirt and tie to go to the doctor, who wore his own shirt and tie and, more often than not, smoked at least one unfiltered, British cigarette during each visit.

I'll give you this... the size and shape of the needles have changed. First off, back in the day, the needles were metal and big. I've already written about the needles being reused after a quick swipe with alcohol. If I continue to bitch about it it could damage my reputation for being a brave little scout. So, let's just say the size and shape of the needles now in use are a big plus.

As I said I would, I looked around for post-inoculation lollipops as soon as I hit the clinic. None. Well, okay, maybe they're in the room where you get the actual shots, I thought. Makes sense- BAM! Pain BAM! Lollipop. 1-2, done, and out the door.

Still, I have learned during my journey with cancer, that irritating anyone who is about to perform any procedure on your person was not a good idea. Let's look back a bit. I've had things shoved up my butt, down my throat. I've had blood whizzed out of my system, and whizzed back in. I've been given enough chemo to kill me, twice. Not to mention two bones biopsies, which I seriously don't want to mention, but just think about it and I'm sure you realize you don't want someone sticking a needle in your spine whose feelings you may have hurt in a lame attempt at making yourself feel more relaxed.

So, I was very nice to the ladies who were doing the sticking, although I don't think I should be calling it sticking. But, inoculating seems like a pretty serious medical term to me and I generally avoid using serious medical terms. Besides, sticking seemed more like what it was. Stick... ing.

As the nice ladies got ready to do their part, I realized there was going to be more to this than I'd thought. First of all, there was the fact that I was going to be stuck five times with five different needles containing five different things that generated five different sensations, though pain seemed to be a constant. And don't go calling me a baby about this. I was all by myself and I couldn't see a post-shot treat anywhere on the horizon.

“How do you want these?” asked the nice lady who seemed to be the ringleader.

I had no idea what she meant and hoped not to sound too stupid when I answered, in all seriousness, “Painlessly.”

Well, the stupid boat had sailed with me on it and when the nice lady smiled like I had been joking, I smiled too. “Good one, huh nurse? Heh heh.”

“Heh heh. Yeah. Cute, but I meant how many shots do you want in each arm?”

With that, the chances of my getting through this without being a complete big baby took a big hit. How do you answer a question like that? I couldn't. I didn't, So she tried to help.

“You can have five in one arm, or we can split them up. Maybe two and three.”

I meant to say “Fine,” but it came out kinda like “Flgmyphm.” But that was good enough for her. Up went the sleeves on each arm, the area was swabbed, and stick, stick, stick, stick, stick. And they hurt, people. I may have cried “Ow” more than once, and maybe a little louder with each succeeding shot.

Fine. Lollipop time. Prior to the actual experience, I had just wanted one because... Because I wanted one. Now, though, I knew I had earned one. And the nice ladies offered me... nothing. Nothing. Not one thing to say to the world, “How brave you were,” or “Good job. We'll tell your wife what a good job you did.” Nothing. I was going to take names, as I'd promised I would last week, should this be the situation I encountered, but then I remembered about being nice. I have to have another round of baby shots in about three months; most likely from the same people. So, nice I was.

Besides, within a few minutes, I was unable to lift either of my arms very far from my side, bringing to mind one more reason for not liking shots in the first place.

Oh, I know you're probably getting all pissy because of my being a big baby about this. “Little babies get these all the time, you know, and they don't take on so.”

Really? Well, let's just take a moment to review that situation. Those babies are coddled by their mothers, kept feeling secure and safe, probably wrapped in a blanket. They've had all their nutrition needs delivered right to their intake area, and they've had the waste created taken away, while having a nice soft cloth wipe their bottom and some nice cool powder patted on them. I, on the other hand, got no hugs; no food delivered to my intake system; and, I don't even want to talk about waste disposal.

And when it's all over... they get to take a nap. Right where they feel like it. Boom, a couple of verses of “Mockingbird” and they're out.

Yeah. Babies are brave. We get it. But... I mean... Couldn't a fella just get a lollipop?

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

But I don't want to get my shots!

For the mother's restless son...

Who says: hard times?

I'm used to them,

The speeding planet burns

I'm used to that

My life's so common it disappears

And sometimes even music

Cannot substitute for tears

Paul Simon

I get the sense that what I had to write about last week left a number of you concerned about my well-being.

I knew as I was in the process that it would not be a typical column. Sure, there were the usual glib observations and snappy repartee, if repartee can be a written thing. Even so, there was an air of defeat about it that even I didn't care for.

But, we made a deal, you and I, back when we had no idea what this column would become; how serious some of what I had to say would be. The agreement was that I needed to write about right now, and by reading on a regular basis, you gave tacit approval to the deal. I don't always feel great. I've seen people who have felt they have to act like they're happy and that everything is A.O.K, all the time. For me, that's too painful to watch.

Still, we all know I'm a funny guy. Right? Funny odd, sometimes. Funny haha, almost always. But, last week I gave you exactly what I had. In the area of positive thought, I realize it was fantastically underwhelming. But in the words of everyone's favorite North Dakotan songbird, Lynn Anderson, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”

Brothers and sisters, should you remain concerned about my sense of humor, I refer you to that last sentence. It's just chock-a-block with chuckles. See, I hate that bleepin' song. I don't like any Lynn Anderson song, though I'd be hard-pressed to even name another. I have never referred to any singer as a songbird, North Dakotan or otherwise. And when I say I hate that bleepin' song, I mean I hate everything about it. The music, the lyrics, the jacket sleeve the record came in. In fact, let me just say... hahahahahahahahahaha. Ha.

I did come to realize over the past two or three weeks that sometimes, some times, just not feeling bad can feel good enough. It's like the old joke about repeatedly hitting yourself with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. So, do I feel wonderful? Not really, but I put the hammer away, didn't I?

Besides, I've got bigger fish to fry this week. I've known I was going to have to face this even before I had my stem cell transplant. I mean, for over a year I've known this was inevitable, but... well, a year? A year is a long time that brings with it a lot of “It's a year. I'll worry about that later”s.

I'm just going to say what it is. If I can say it, I can face it: I have to begin having my baby shots all over again. There. Ouch, right? Diphtheria? Yes. Polio? Yes. Whooping cough? Maybe. Measles? Yes. All of them. I don't even know what they all are. I just know I have to follow the same schedule a baby does- nine months, 12 months, eleventy-seven months. I don't even have a mother to argue that they're bad for me and I shouldn't do it.

This is necessary because of the thoroughness of the stem cell transplant process. The chemo I was given before my new cells went in completely destroyed my immune system. Completely. It wasn't like I had time to move things two by two to someplace safe. This flood was thorough and complete. Yes, it wiped out the cancer that was compromising my immune system, but it took the baby out with the bathwater.

Let me take a minute for a completely pointless aside. Did you know that the unicorn, which may or may not have been left off the ark, is the national animal of Scotland? Yeah. It is. Look it up.

Anyway... Baby shots. It's not so much the fact that I have to have yet another shot of something. I think it's the fact that I have to have these particular shots again. I already had them once and, it would seem, they were working fine. But... Over the side they went and it's “Roll up your sleeve Mr. Arnold and get ready for a pinch.”

I also sense karma lurking. I can't help but think about all the times I lied to my daughters when they had to have shots (“No, honey. This isn't going to hurt.”) You can call it comfort, caring, misdirection... it doesn't change the untruthiness of it.

You know, I wonder, if, just maybe, this is where the issue of trust between parents and their kids begins to get a little wobbly. “Trust me, kids. You'll be glad you had to learn algebra.” “Sure, dad. Just like those shots wouldn't hurt. Is that what you mean?”

OK. So, I'll roll up my sleeve and be a brave little scout, but there darned well better be a lollipop waiting at the end of all this. I mean it. I'm taking names.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Anger schmanger

So. I seem to be angry at this point in time... and a few points in time before this since I've had the feeling for about three days. Angry why? Yet another good question, brothers and sisters.

I imagine you might think, “Ah. Anger. One of the stages of grief; to be expected.” Well, in my current state of mind... perhaps you could take a minute, put your lips together, place your tongue in an appropriate position, and blow. If the sound coming out of your mouth doesn't sound like a “raspberry,” repeat until it does.

There was a time, back in the day, when my being angry would have been as newsworthy as “Dog bites man.” In other words, not worth even mentioning.

Back in the day, I actually had a counselor tell me I changed every emotion into anger quicker than anyone she ever knew. Well, of course I said, “Thank you.” One doesn't always get the chance to be the best at something, and even then I knew being polite was important. “That's not a good thing,” she said. To which I replied, “Why don't you just shut up?” keeping my mood-changing streak alive.

Now this was an excellent counselor, so she persisted. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?” (I could be persistent too, with the added advantage of being immature.)

“You were just thinking about something that was making you tear up, but immediately you got angry instead, You cut off those tears completely. Why did you do that?”

I had a quick answer for her, right out of my “Big Book of Answers Guaranteed to get a Counselor off Your Back.”

“Because, I'm afraid if I start crying, I won't be able to stop,” I said in a manner that suggested weeping was just around the corner.

She laughed. “Well, that's foolish,” she said. “You're going to fall asleep at some point, and you'll stop crying then.”

As an angry person, I was a little short on snappy comebacks. “Yeah? Well, so's your mother,” I barked, hoping volume would make up for the fact that it made no sense whatsoever. But then, I thought it over for a moment and decided, “I want my money back on that 'Big Book of Answers Guaranteed to get a Counselor off Your Back,' that's for damned sure!”

But that was just the start of a beautiful relationship that counselor and I were to have as we worked on my anger issues. Mind you, this was before anger management became a fashionable term. She had the big, padded stick deal you were supposed to hit things with when you got mad. I never used them, but in keeping with my own style, I did speak harshly to them a number of times.

That was almost 20 years ago and it has been a long time since I set about changing any coming emotion into anger. So, when I say I seem to be angry at this point in time, it isn't something I say lightly, or without considerable thought.

But here's the thing: I am also very, very tired. I know I've moaned about this before, but the tiredness is worse than ever. I know I should write fatigue, instead of tiredness, but it isn't fatigue. It is tiredness. If you don't see any difference, that's okay. It's sort of like saying I'm dealing with anger management instead of anger issues, I suppose. It's a question of tone.

I'm sure I don't sound very brave when I say I'm tired of my bones hurting each and every day and the constant pains in my stomach are getting old. Then, too, being aware that I have an incurable cancer, even though our treatment protocol has kicked its ass, is wearing on me.

I'm also pretty tired of hearing myself speak/write about me. I just feel like yelling, “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” every time I have a self-centered thought. But then, I also feel like yelling, “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” every time I hear someone talk about cute puppy/kitten pictures/videos on Facebook, so what am I supposed to do about that?

When we were first going together, Sheri used to try to get me to physically release the anger by striking cookie sheets against posts in the basement. It didn't really help with my anger issues, but it did cause a lot of bent cookie sheets. For that whole period of time you could always tell the cookies we brought to any social situation because ours were the ones that wouldn't lay flat. Ha ha.

But, of course, given time, the anger passes, just like so many other ups and downs that have become part of my journey, which, at this point, is far more of a mental challenge than physical. The one constant in all of it is the gratitude I have for the life I am now living. The sooner I get in touch with that part of my heart, the sooner the other... stuff … goes away.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The day the music really died and other endings

I've been thinking a lot about endings recently. The sort... Wait a minute. No. Not those kinds of endings. For heavens sake, don't be so morbid. Sheesh.
Just endings of... things. For example, I was there the day the music really died, at least in my mind, when AM radio ceased to have any relevance for anyone, anywhere. I grew up with a teeny portable tinny-sounding radio stuck to my ear, listening to rock music on AM stations.
When I started working at the AM radio station in Geneva, it was still about playing the hits, Top 40 lists, having a big personality, piling one record on top of another while talking over the musical introductions of every song, annoying the heck out of just about everyone, except maybe station managers and other disc jockeys. By the time I was fired, AM radio was well on its way to becoming what I find it to be today: talk radio for people who like to argue and who would rather hear uninterrupted blah, blah, blah all day, than blah, blah, blah interrupted by an occasional record.
Likewise, my entry into newspapers coincided with the end of the hot type era. Though I did work on one paper that still had its copy set in hot lead and was laid out on metal forms which made each page of the newspaper weigh about 75 pounds, The Eastwood Recorder was about the last of its kind.
Initially, the offset process relied on punch tape, then moved on to film and, eventually, computers. I was also there for the rise of computers as the way to produce newspapers. I know... that sounds like a Terminator reference. But I think you know what I mean.
Wow, huh? History, man. Real “You Were There!” stuff” You probably think, “Hey grandpa that's great. But, really dude, who cares?” which, if the case, would be an incredibly shallow, unsophisticated thing to say. Then, though, it would free me to make my own incredibly shallow, unsophisticated observations on your opinion which, alas, would have to be incomplete because I've never mastered how to represent the sound of a raspberry using words only. And, if you're over 16 years of age, you would lose points for saying “dude.”
On April 6th, I ended another 365 days of living in America. That was the date, in 1963, when my parents and I arrived in the United States from Scotland. How long ago was that? Well, Kennedy Airport was still called Idlewild and the reason to change the name was more than eight months away.
When we were milling around, shortly after landing, waiting for our luggage I guess, my dad asked some guy in uniform if he could smoke in our particular portion of the milling around area. I don't know what the uniform was, but I think it had more in common with the uniforms worn in the cafeteria than it did with any true form of authority. But still, the fellow displayed no lack of assumed authority when he answered, “Sure, buddy. You're in a free country now.”
Now, I was only 13 at the time, but I knew, right then and there, we had all made a horrendous mistake in coming here. My father was concerned with smoking around high-powered jet fuel, but uniform guy seemed to think we had barely managed to scrape our few belongings together and escape before the Queen started demanding our heads. It wasn't the dumbest thing anybody said to us in our early days in this country; it just happened to be the first.
It was a poor beginning, but in America we were and in America we were going to stay since we couldn't afford our way home. So, my dad took his chances and lit a cigarette. Uniform guy showed up again a few minutes later to say, “See. Doesn't it feel good to be in a free country?” True story. Seriously.
Obviously, in the intervening 52 (!!) years, this has come to be my home and everything I love and hold dear is here. I'm proud of my Scottish heritage, but I consider myself an American. At one time April 6 was a really important date as I counted the years very carefully. I'm not sure when I stopped caring, but it was a long time ago, probably about the time I put my faith in George McGovern.
And today, as I write this, it's the end of my first year as a stem cell transplant recipient. What do you suppose the kid who heard the asinine comments from uniform guy in soon-to-be-Kennedy Airport in 1963 would have thought had he even the slightest inkling how things were going to turn out. Maybe if the uniform guy had said, “Watch out kid. It's a free country, but multiple myeloma is a killer,” that might have been worth something. Still, I doubt it. 'Cause, who knew?
Besides, as we know, I have no gripes about any of it at this point. My life is amazing, filled with incredible people. When Sheri and I think back to May 6, 2014, getting ready to embark on the great adventure that is dealing with cancer, we see we had little more idea what lay ahead of us than that 13-year-old kid did. All we probably knew was that we were scared too.
The first day of the rest of my life indeed.
There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere