Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In and Out

The top news story on all channels yesterday was that a current professional athlete has come out of the closet.”  Washington Wizard Jason Collins came “out of the closet” in the press yesterday in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated.  The announcement was historic because he was the first current player in any of the “big four” American sports to declare himself as gay.

Personally, I think it’s great news, and I hope his openness encourages other closeted athletes to stop living a lie.  No one should have to pretend to be someone they’re not.

So far, the responses reported in the media have been overwhelmingly favorable.  Numerous athletes, commentators and politicians have tweeted or been quoted as offering support.  ESPN reporter, Chris Broussard, differed stating that that Collins is “walking in open rebellion to God,” but he appears to be in the minority.  He became an instant target of social media.

Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace placed an ill-advised tweet:

I don’t believe Wallace was being hostile, just ignorant of what it means to be gay.  Still, I’m kind of glad the Steelers let him sign elsewhere this season.  I don’t think it’s uncommon for athletes to be behind the curve on such issues.  After all, their only job, from high school, through college, through their pro careers, has been to study their playbook, develop their bodies and practice their craft.  Most aren’t Rhodes scholars, is what I’m saying.  So I’m not surprised.

Anyway, if you follow the news, nothing I’ve said so far should be new to you.  My point today is that we’ve only gotten through the easy stuff with this story so far.  All the attention and commentary on the newness and groundbreaking nature of the story is a piece of cake.  In the weeks to come we will see the hard part.

 As with Broussard and Wallace, people who comment against the grain of this “feel-good” story tend to get smacked down quite aggressively.  Social media climbs all over them, sometimes their employers coerce an apology or distance themselves from the comment.

Remember that 49ers cornerback that spoke up about not wanting a gay teammate, during the run-up to the Super Bowl?  That became a major news story and the dude quickly found himself nose deep in Sensitivity Training classes.  I’m guessing a lot of ball players noticed that, so I’m not surprised there wasn’t a lot of negative commentary.  Seriously, who the hell wants to go to Sensitivity Training?

I’ll be interested to see what happens going forward.  What happens the next time Collins drops a hard foul on somebody?  What’s the dude going to call him as he gets up off the ground? 

And don’t even get me started about the fans.  I think the players are Mensa candidates compared to some of the life forms found in arenas and stadiums.  I think you’re going to see a new “F-word” trending in the stands any time the Wizards come to town.  Fans may hold their tongue when the going is good, but let the guy screw up and then watch what happens.

I mean, look what happened to Kordell Stewart!  If you’re reading from The Burgh, you know what I’m talking about.  Stewart used to be quarterback for the Steelers, from the mid 90s through the early 2000s.  He was a Pro Bowl caliber player and he was basically run out of town, due in part to a baseless rumor about his sexuality, which just would not die.

There was never an ounce of proof about any of it, but everyone had a cousin’s neighbor’s brother that “saw” something going on in a local park.  Personally, I think the whole thing stemmed from the time Stewart appeared to be caught crying on TV after getting pulled from a game.  The “gay” rumors popped up almost immediately afterward, and never went away.

Now, as a Steeler fan residing far from Pittsburgh, I heard every gay-related epithet known to mankind, hurled at Stewart (or anyone wearing his jersey) from up in the stands.  And from what I gathered, it wasn’t much different on home turf, any time he threw an interception.

I know it was a different time then.  Maybe everyone just hadn’t seen enough “Will and Grace” yet, or gotten to know Neil Patrick Harris.  Maybe it will be different in 2013. 

But I doubt it. 

Calling another guy gay, in variable terminology, has been the go-to slur since time began.  I know that was always the ace in the hole on the playgrounds of my youth, and judging from conversations with my nephew, it is on his playground too.

So good luck to Jason Collins… he’ll need it.  I hope some more guys come out as well, and provide some cover.  There’s strength in numbers. 

I bet it helps to be 7-foot tall and 255 pounds, too.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jersey City

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ regular season wrapped up last night, with an 8-3 win over Carolina.  This was the game I for which I should have bought tickets.  Maybe I’ll try next year.  I was scared off by the promotion, but I should have checked the availability first.  On the last home game of the year, the Pens hold “Shirt off their Backs” night, where fans are drawn from the crowd to come down on the ice and be given a player’s jersey, right off their backs.  I know the odds are long… with crowds of about 18,000 and 20 players, that’s about 1 in 900.  Not lottery odds, but still pretty long.

Anyway, in honor of the end of the lockout-shortened regular season, I thought I’d tally up my year in Game Jersey Mojo.  As you probably know, I chart all kinds of mojo variables for football.  With a 16-game schedule, that’s not too big of an undertaking.  But with an 82 game schedule, or in the case of this year, a 48 game schedule, I only track what I wear versus the game outcome.  So let’s get to the results, shall we?

Record: 8-2, Winning percentage .800

1) The white James Neal was my visiting team workhorse this year, which was nice because I really like this jersey.  I got it late last year, where I didn't wear it often because it hadn't yet acquired enough mojo.  (Pens went 1-2 when I wore it last year.)

5-2    .714

2) Post-lockout Mario jersey from early 2000s.  This was my top jersey last year, (10-2), and the mojo was still good.  I love the look of this jersey, and I kind of wish they’d bring it back.

3-0  1.00

3) Mario jersey from the 1990-2 Stanley Cup years.  Technically this (and the next two) jersey(s) had perfect records, but I’m lowering their standings due to a limited sample size.

3-0    1.00

4) White “Corporate Pigeon” jersey from the mid 90s through early 2000s.  This used to be a Jagr jersey but I had the 68 turned into a 66, and the “O” put on when Mario bought the team.  I’m aware that could be considered a “jersey foul,” but I don’t care.  I love the idea.

1-0    1.00

5) “Snoop Dogg” Mario jersey, from the same era as the prior one.  I only wore this on once… last night, to be specific.  I didn't want to worry about crossing momentum into the playoffs, so I picked a jersey I could wear as a one-off.  I actually had this on once or twice for games this season, only to find out at the last second that the Pens were wearing their blue “3rd jerseys,” and subsequently had to make a quick change.

You know, if I took the records of all my “classic” (non-current) jerseys and put them together, they went 12-2.  Not bad for nostalgia…

4-1    .800

6) Marc-Andre Fleury “Winter Classic” jersey.  I wore this whenever the Penguins did.  Their record was good, but I knocked it down the standings because it still had bad mojo.  Sidney Crosby was wearing it when he got his jaw broken by a slap shot.  There have been other Penguin injuries that occurred as well, while wearing this sweater.  In fact, the Penguins were supposed to wear it one more time, but decided to retire it for good.  This one won’t see the light of day again.

The Flower just became a father this week, when his wife had a baby girl they named Estelle.  I was kind of hoping for a boy… a small Flower that they could name “Bud.”

6-3    .666

7) New this year, a white Sidney Crosby jersey.  When I got this one, I got rid of my black Sid jersey.  (I said last year that I wanted to upgrade.  It’s sad when a knockoff “authentic” is considered an improvement over a legitimate “replica.”)

2-1    .666

8) Black Evgeni Malkin jersey.  This was also new last year and went 3-0 in limited use.  I expected it to be a workhorse this year, but after the Pens lost the first game where I wore it, it took 2 months before I tried it again.  But by then, I had my methodology down.  More on that later.

3-2    .600

9) Black Brooks Orpik jersey.  This was also new this year and the Pens lost the first time I wore it.  Two months later, they won 3 in a row, so it was redeemed in my eyes.  I was going to wear this one to the game last weekend, before it got postponed.

10) No jersey:  1-1  .500

This happened twice… the first was the night I had the kidney stone attack.  I didn't have time (or capability) of getting a jersey on, and the Pens lost big.  The other game was the day we arrived in Pittsburgh and the Pens were playing Boston in a make-up game, the one that caused my game to get postponed.  I was too irritated to pack a jersey for that game, but the Pens won.

Season analysis: None of my jerseys ended up with a losing record, but I suppose I can’t take ALL the credit.  The Pens only lost 12 games all year long.  But after a bumpy start, where I couldn't discern any kind of pattern, I was noticed that the Pens would go on a bit of a streak, and one jersey would get me 3 wins but never a 4th.  At the beginning of March, I began changing jerseys after 3 wins and the Pens promptly went on a 15-game winning streak.  You’re welcome.  The only time I broke the 3-game consistency was when they’d wear their blue jerseys.

Obviously, the playoffs are an entirely different animal.  I’ll use the track record I've established to give me a start, but I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for any necessary adjustments.  I might be hampered a bit during the first series, because I’ll be in Florida for at least a couple of games.  That means I’ll be locked into whatever I pack.  If all seems lost though, I might be able to borrow a jersey from my dad, or if I’m really desperate, from my mom.  Not sure her Letang jersey will fit me though…

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Get Me Out of This Month

I don’t know about you, but April has been absolutely brutal to me.  In fact, ever since the Ratbirds won the Super Bowl, it’s like everything I've touched has turned to shit.  It’s probably the manifestation of all the negative energy I've put out towards the Ratties, coming back home to roost.

I've already written about a bunch of the things that have gone wrong… I mean, kidney stones… hello?  And then going into A-fib right afterwards?  And coming down with a cold right after that?  I was lucky it was just ending last Friday before we headed for our Pittsburgh weekend.

And all the sports tickets I dropped a ton of cash on earlier this year?  So far, for the first three games that have occurred, I've only been able to use 3 of the 6 tickets.  I’m hemorrhaging money like the Iraqi government, right now.

I mean, think about it… When I ordered my Pens tickets, there were 48 games on the schedule, 24 of which were home games.  I could have picked any game to attend, but the one I did pick was the 1st game in ages… and I can’t remember anything like this happening EVER before… to be moved.  What are the odds?  And then not to be able to find anyone to take the seats, in a hockey-crazed town like Pittsburgh?  Unreal!

And then there are the things you don’t know about, like my latest apparel purchase snafus.  I already mentioned being under-whelmed by my Manny Machado jersey, because it didn't come with front numbers and the lettering wasn't properly stitched. 

Around the same time I ordered that, I also ordered a Penguins polo shirt… a men’s, white, size-XL.  What they shipped to me was a women’s, black, size-S Blackhawks jersey, which is just about as opposite from my actual order as you can get.  I know I ordered correctly, because my email confirmation lists it properly.  But the invoice and the shirt were dead wrong.

So sure, I returned it, but I naturally had to pay postage.  AND, guess what day it was when I took my lunch hour to nip over to the post office?  April 15th, that’s what.  Do you know what else is going on at the post office on April 15th?  A hillion-jillion-quintillion people are lined up to mail their deadline-day tax returns, that’s what.  I could feel my shirt turning to shit right there in the box.  Sure, I mailed it the next day, but not without that big runaround, first.

I also ordered a new Orioles jersey this spring.  I wanted an actual “white” replacement for my “cream” colored Nick Markakis jersey.  I found one on E-Bay and won the auction with a bid of $36.00.  I made the Pay-Pal payment immediately, to facilitate receiving the jersey by opening day.  Unfortunately, the seller was a first time E-Bay user and didn't have a clue what he was doing.

First, he told me someone else won.  I told him that E-Bay told me I won, and I already paid for the jersey.  (All communication was via E-Bay’s internal email system.)  He said that he didn’t think he had the money yet, but wasn’t sure how to find out if he did.

I told him to check his Pay-Pal account, and said that I confirmed with my bank that the money had already been taken from my account.  Eventually he said he found the money and would ship my jersey.  It had taken about a week to get to that point.

The middle of the next week, I checked back to see if he’d shipped yet.  He said he hadn’t, and due to the snow (in the northeast) he wouldn't be able to until the weekend.  When I checked that weekend, he said he mailed it on the Friday.

When the following Friday came and I didn't have the jersey, I contacted him and asked for the tracking number.  He said his sister had mailed it, and didn't get a tracking number.  We confirmed my address and he asked that I give it another week for the jersey to show up.

All along, I was wondering if this guy was a con artist, or just incompetent.  But I stayed calm and measured, so that I could present the chain of emails to E-Bay, should I need to make a case to get some consideration.

When the jersey still hadn't arrived (after a full month of back and forth), I told him I’d been patient long enough and I’d had about all I could take of this mess.  He offered to refund my money, and I took it.  Naturally, I didn't get ALL of my money back.  E-Bay took a $7 cut of the original sale, and then another $1.50 of the refund transaction.  But at least I got most of it back.

Funny, I was so irked about losing $8.50, and now I just pissed away $300 on those Pens tickets I couldn't use.

So April can’t end soon enough for me.  But I’m worried about May too, though.  We’re heading for Florida on May 2nd, and I’m hearing about all these flight delays due to air traffic controller furloughs.  If we get stuck in Atlanta, I’ll understand that it’s nature’s way of extracting the Ratbirds’ revenge.  Bitch…

I guess I could have it worse.  It’s not like I worked for NASA and accidentally drew a schlong on Mars.

But if the Penguins wash out of the playoffs in the first round again, I’ll know I’ll need to buckle up, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride this year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Weekend in The Burgh

Despite the soul-crushing blow that the cancelled Penguins game caused, we sought to make the best of the remaining cards we held, so off we went to go spend the weekend in Pittsburgh.

Our trip was essentially stress and traffic-free. Pinky was actually able to keep herself to a single pee-break, at our designated pit stop in Breezewood, so we easily breezed into Pittsburgh by 2:00.  I had originally planned for us to wander around the city for a while, but I hadn't planned on it being windy and cold out, so we hunkered down in our room at the Doubletree for a while.  Because there wasn't much to look at out the window (see prior post) I was able to watch the end of the Penguins/Bruins hockey game, whose re-scheduling was at fault for bumping the Saturday night game we had to miss.

Not the most extravagant room, but cozy enough to sleep in.

About 3:00, we set out to find “Las Velas” at Market Square, to meet up with my buddies Cassie, and Mr. & Mrs. Carpetbagger.  It took us a little longer than anticipated, due to the devious nature of trying to navigate city streets that run every which way, we ended up arriving right on time none-the-less.  We were the first ones there, so any time I get someplace before Cassie does, I consider it a win.

Naturally, Cassie arrived during the two minutes where I had nipped off to the bathroom, so Pinky had to flag her down.  Luckily, I’ve probably shown Pinky about a jillion pictures of Cassie and her kids from Facebook, so she recognized her right off.  I’m not sure what Cassie made of entering the restaurant and encountering a wildly gesticulating redhead.

The Carpetbaggers joined us shortly, so we all spent a very happy couple of hours enjoying some exquisite Mexican food and some quality conversation and fellowship.

Well, since there were three girls and the two “fellows” were outnumbered, maybe I should call it “ladyship.”  Regardless, I was happy to be able to prove that Pinky is, in fact, a real live person, and not a figment of my imagination.

After the meal, and bidding goodbye to my friends, we considered looking for a place that has some live music.  We learned pretty quickly, though, that most of the places that qualified were right near where we were.  But since we didn’t really care to hang around for another 5-6 hours for the music to start, we headed back to the hotel.  After a couple of $5 beers in the hotel bar, (holy crap… those are baseball park prices!) we retired up to the room.  It was way too cold to go wandering around, especially as it got dark, so we opted for a quiet night “in.”  We’re old, so we figured we’d need the extra energy for our big day out on Sunday.

It was a much nicer day on Sunday, but still brisk.  At least the sun was out.  Pinky got up early and went down to use the pool and workout room.  I got up, showered, and banged out a short blog post from my iPad.  (My first iPad blog post!  Another milestone for Bluz!) 

We ventured out around 11:00 and went over to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast.  After that, I took Pinky on the “scenic route” on the way to the ballpark.  We stopped by PPG Plaza, so I could show off the grandeur of all that dark glass.

We then moseyed down to the “point,” where the two rivers come together to form the Ohio.  Unfortunately, they’re STILL doing construction work down at the actual “point,” just like they were the last time I was down there in 2011, so we weren't able to get all the way there.  I wanted to be able to provide Pinky a frame of reference for every time they show an aerial shot of the city during a football game.

See honey?  We were right there!

Anyway, we got close enough. 

We then walked up along the river before climbing up onto the Roberto Clemente Bridge, to cross over to the ballpark.

Do all the geese in Pittsburgh only have one leg?  I’m surprised they didn't have a sign out, asking for change.  Or bread crumbs.

We got into the park about a half hour early, so we ambled around a bit before finding our seats.  We were in Row M, in the second section behind home plate.

The arrow points to our seats.

They were great seats, and featured the greatest view in all of baseball.

I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely love how the Pirates have little kids out onto the field before Sunday games, to meet the players when they go out to field their positions.  It’s great PR and costs the team nothing.

You think that kid isn't going to remember this for the rest of his life?

So we watched the Buccos beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-2… well, OK, we watched most of it.  The Pirates were winning 4-2 after the 7th inning, when the shade started covering our seats, and brrrrrr, it was a big difference.  So as the shadows crept across the field, we bade farewell to this beautiful ballpark and headed back to the car.

Rather than walking all the way back, we hopped on the free “T” subway line.  It saved us a whole bunch of time, so that we were able to get to the car and out of downtown before the ballgame let out.  We checked into our next hotel room, out near where my aunt and uncle live, and cleaned up a bit before heading there.

We purposefully didn't eat anything at the ballgame, because I knew that any meal at Aunt Grace Ann’s house would be epic.  We were not disappointed.  She brought out a huge bowl of gnocchi, along with meatballs and a pork loin, beans and salad.  And dessert.  Uncle Ange brought out bottle after bottle of delicious red wine.  It was enough food to feed an army, which we were, considering besides Pinky and I, Grandpa was there along with 3 cousins, 2 significant others and a baby.

There was much festivity and merry-making that went on long into the night.

Little EJ with his grandpa.

Little Bluz with his grandpa.

We got back to the room around 11:30, and boy did we sleep well!  After Pinky worked out (again), we got cleaned up and set out upon our errands.  I had to stop at K-Mart, to pick up a few Penguins odds and ends.  Then we stopped by the local market, for some fresh Italian bread, a couple pounds of Isaly’s chipped ham and barbecue sauce.  We hit the road in earnest by 11:00 and once again, had relatively clear sailing all the way back to Baltimore.

It was definitely a “glass half full” kind of weekend because the good times shown us by my friends and family more than made up for the butt-stinging loss of $300 worth of Pens tickets.  (No, I never managed to sell them.)

Tonight, I’ll be watching the game from home.  Maybe I’ll try to re-create the in-game experience.  I’ll turn up the surround-sound, have Pinky bring me beers and charge me $10.  And every time a player goes near the glass in what would have been “our corner,” I’ll get up and pound on the TV screen, like an angry chimpanzee.

I wonder if my Best Buy warranty covers that kind of damage…

Sunday, April 21, 2013

To the Half Full Cup

We got into The Burgh easily enough... I was able to use the cruise control almost the whole way.

If you haven't seen from previous comments, the Penguins game we were supposed to see was moved to Tuesday night, due to delayed games in Boston (where the Pens were playing Friday night). Obviously, I'm pretty upset about missing this game. After looking forward all year to my first visit to the Pens' new arena, AND spending $300 on tickets, it's a pretty tough nut to swallow.

Yes, I know there are bigger issues at play and I realize that the alternatives were limited, but still, it just sucks having the rug pulled out from under you the night before the big day. But since I also had non-refundable hotel rooms booked and a pair of Pirates tickets, the trip was still on. I'm trying desperately to look at my cup as half full.

Our room is nice enough, but the view is uninspiring.

We met up with Cassie and The Carpetbaggers for lunch yesterday, so that was a redeeming point. I'll have more on the rest of our journey on Tuesday. Until then, please oh please let nothing else go wrong! Oh, and finding a buyer for my tickets would be nice too!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Stones Tour - Encore

When we last left our hero, he just had his heart shocked back into proper rhythm, a few days after enduring the movement of a 7-mm kidney stone.  He has NOT had a very good April.

It’s been ten days now and my heartbeat remains in rhythm.  I’m hopeful it will stay that way for a while.  The doctors gave me a prescription for the blood thinner, Xarelto, which I needed to take for seven days.  (Is it me, or does Xarelto sound like the villain in a sci-fi alien movie?)  They also gave me an additional seven pills, to be taken the moment I go back out of rhythm. 

The benefit of this pill, as opposed to Coumadin, is that you don’t need to go for blood monitoring while you’re on it.  I was certainly all for that.  What I wasn't “all for” was the $116 bill!  And that’s after insurance!  My policy covered $25 and I paid $116.  I figure that’s because the insurance companies want you to be on Coumadin, because it’s dirt cheap.  Bastards.  $116 for 14 pills… unreal. 

So, I had the cardioversion done on Monday, and I was back at work on Tuesday, none the worse for wear.  I thought I was home free, but then the kidney stone pain started up again.

I was at work, and I started getting pains in the same place; my left side.  It didn't make sense, because they told me I had the one stone that moved (from the left side) and two more smaller ones still in my right kidney.  I was also feeling some pain along the urinary tract, so I figured the stone might be moving on from the bladder.

When I went in to take a leak, I thought the pee looked a little pinkish; then I passed what looked like a couple small, black “flakes,” which I took to be chips off the main stone.

The Death Star” is on the move,” I thought.  I told my boss and left work early.  I could have taken my Percocet immediately, but since I’d never taken one before, I wasn't sure how hard it would hit me, so I didn't want to be trying to get home from work when kicked in.

Once home, I began to wonder how I would capture this stone.  Obviously, I wasn't keen to just reach into the bowl.  I’d probably have to cut my arm off after that.  I should have stopped at Walgreens or something; I bet they have pee strainers.  I didn't think Pinky would let me get away with using a kitchen colander.  I considered using a coffee filter, but didn't think it would drain fast enough.  Eventually, we McGuyvered something up with an unused pair of Pinky’s panty hose and an old yogurt container.

Turned out, nothing moved.  I took the Perc, the pain gradually dissolved, and that was it.  (There were no unusual side effects from the Percocet; it just dulled the pain.)  In retrospect, I think that might have been the last gasp of the urinary tract infection the stone caused.  It’s been over a week now, and I haven’t felt anything since.

When I was still at the hospital for the stone, I asked the doctor what would happen if the stone just stayed in the bladder.  He said, “Nothing.”  So I’m not worried.  My Aunt also emailed me and told me she had the same thing happen to her, about 25 years ago… huge stone pain, that stopped when it got to the bladder, and never surfaced again.

So here I am… most guys have two balls.  Some have one.  Now I have three.

I’m just glad all this stuff got resolved before this upcoming weekend.  Big doin’s are afoot, as Pinky and I head into The Burgh, to see a Penguins game and Pirates game, and hang with friends and family.

Naturally, I started coming down with a cold on Monday.  I should be good to travel by Saturday, though.  I’d better be.

Like I said, it’s been a rough April.  I've just been fortunate that I've had Pinky riding shotgun with me through all of this.  She’s been my advocate and crusader, part Clara Barton and part pit bull.  It would have sucked to go through all this crap alone.  Hospitals don’t make it easy to go through things by yourself, especially people like me who are uncomfortable asking for things or being the center of attention.

Also, I’d like to thank you for all your kind words and best wishes.  I just wish I had a better ending to this medical saga for you, but I promise to let you know if I ever get any kind of “resolution.”

I’ll try to get a short post up for you from the road this weekend, and I should have the beginning of this weekend’s update on Tuesday night.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Arrhythmia 'n Bluz, Part 3

When we last left our long-suffering hero, he was at a lull in his kidney stone tribulations, but was now dealing with a return of atrial fibrillation.  Sucks to be him…

I've had A-fib on and off since 1996.  I wrote about my 2002 and 2007 surgeries for it before, and suffice to say, I wasn't terribly worried about the recurrence.  I suppose I was more annoyed than worried.  Because I've lived with it for such long periods of time, I don’t find it terribly threatening.  The only practical effect it ever had on me was leaving me winded from walking up hills or stairs.  So when I felt winded after merely getting dressed in the morning, it got my attention.

That’s when I called an audible and decided to just show up at the hospital to get looked at, rather than calling from work to set something up.  Johns Hopkins is located at the end of the subway line I take every day, so getting there is a breeze.  Because my cardiologist had previously told me that if I got there within 48 hours of the onset of the a-fib, they could do a “cardioversion” (where they shock the heart back into rhythm, like you used to see on “ER”) without all the blood work and invasive pre-op testing, I felt confident in what was going to happen.  I’d been through the cardioversion drill twice before so I figured they’d get me in, zap me, and I’d be back on the subway on my way to work, by 10:30, tops.

Initially, my biggest concern was where to go, because Hopkins is a huge facility.  Because I was showing up out of the blue, I didn't know if I should report to the A-Fib Unit or what.  After explaining my situation to the information desk person, she said I should go directly to the ER.  Getting there sounded complicated though, so I allowed them to call a wheelchair for me.  Sure, I could have walked, but I could just see making a wrong turn and getting hopelessly lost before collapsing in a heap outside the Podiatry Unit.  So I let them wheel me around.

They took me in, did a quick EKG, then found a bed for me immediately.  They must not have liked what they saw.  So again, there we were, Pinky and I, chilling in another curtained ER room.  This time, I was gowned in my dress slacks instead of sweat pants.  But on the bright side, I got another pair of hospital slipper socks!


After that, we began the endless parade of nurses, techs, med students and doctors who proceeded to poke, prod and ask me the same questions.  I made sure everyone knew about my previous week’s kidney stone adventures.  Pinky was eager to assign the reason for my A-fib relapse on taking (the anti-biotic) Cipro, because fibrillation was a known side effect.

The doctor actually went and researched it for us, and found that Cipro was linked to ventricular fibrillation, not atrial, like I had.  That’s a whole different thing, and much more serious.  The atrium pumps blood into the ventricles at the bottom of the heart.  The ventricles then pump the blood out to the rest of the body.  She sited a study that out of 10,000 patients treated with Cipro, only 4 developed A-fib, which well below the margin of error.  I believe the term is “statistically negligible.”

There was any number of causes for the A-fib to recur.  Could have been the stress from trying to sell that extra ticket, the strain from the kidney stones and hurling, or it could have been taking that slug of ice-cold beer.  OR, it just could have been my time.  I just had a 6-year run of steady rhythm, so who knows?

Back in 2007, when Pinky talked me into getting the 2nd treatment, she found that the country’s foremost authority on A-fib, Dr. Calkins, worked out of Hopkins.  With a resource like that located right in our back yard, seeing him seemed like the obvious course of action.

So from the time I got to the ER, I told everyone that after my last catheter ablation surgery, Dr. Calkins told me I could get an immediate cardioversion if I got there soon enough.  I name-dropped the Big Dog every chance I got.  All they had to do was locate him or someone from his department, to advise on and approve my treatment.  Remember, the A-fib unit is closed on Mondays, so this proved more time-consuming than I’d hoped.

Meanwhile, they started getting me prepped for the procedure.  Right off, they put a saline drip into my right arm.  They were happily surprised that I knew not to eat or drink anything prior to coming in.  Like I said, I knew the drill.  In fact, I hadn't eaten since noon the day before, and had only sipped enough water to take my pills.  Of course, I was totally hungry and thirsty, but what can you do?

A nurse came in around 11:30 and said they needed to put me on a Heparin drip (a blood thinner), and it needed to go in my other (left) arm.  I wasn't crazy about getting stuck and tied down on both sides, especially since I had multiple lines running into a single line, just a few days prior.  I also know that there are always problems when trying to stick my left arm.  I’ve been told the vein there is a bit “rolly.”

I warned the nurse of that, and true to form, he couldn't get the line in.  When he suggested finding another location, I told him that they've gone in easily enough on the inside of my left wrist, so he should try there.  That one worked, so there I was, a line in my right arm, a line going into my left wrist, an abandoned stick on the left arm and a chest full of EKG wiring.

THEN, another doctor came in and said that they wouldn't need the Heparin drip after all; they would use a newer blood thinner called Xarelto.  I was like, “So you basically put all these holes in my arm just to piss me off?

Yes, I really said that.  Good thing we’d already established a strong rapport.

They said the port should stay though, as a backup for during the cardioversion.  I think that’s probably what they always say after a screw up, like when the dentist says, “Rinse.”

But now came the Catch-22 moment.  I had to take the pill with food.  But I couldn't have food before the procedure.  So the solution was that I got to put the pill one top of a single spoonful of vanilla pudding.  I graciously offered to take care of the rest of the pudding cup, but she shot me down.  What bummed me out even more was that neither the nurse nor Pinky wanted the pudding either.  I think I was more upset about wasting a perfectly good pudding cup than anything else that happened that day.

After that little flurry of activity, they said we just needed to wait for one patient before me to clear, then I’d go up to the A-fib unit for my procedure.  It was about 11:45.  I figured I’d be up in about a half hour, and on the way to work by 1:00.

So there we were at 2:30, still waiting around, and growing more annoyed by the moment.  Pinky and I played a couple games of 20 questions, took pictures with my iPad, and basically just tried to amuse ourselves.

All wired up…

FINALLY, a nurse from the A-Fib Unit appeared; a guy I’d seen before at my last procedure.  He had a skull-cap bandana thing on, spectacles and a thick white beard.  He looked like a non-stoned Tommy Chong.  Anyway, he said there was a bit of a mix-up  The A-Fib Unit was waiting for the ER to bring me up; the ER was waiting for them to call for me to be brought up.  For two goddamned hours…   Sigh…

At least things were finally rolling again.  They wheeled me up and started prepping the site.  And by that, I mean shaving parts of my chest and back, specifically over my right pec and behind my left shoulder blade.  For my prior cardioversions, they put both paddles in the front.  As we waited for the doctor to come in, the nurse explained that now they’d have to sit me up, and zap me from the front and back.  I figured, “Whatever… I’ll be out cold either way.”

The doctor finally rolled in and looked over my case.  It was funny; he was like, “Why are we doing this and not that and why aren't we doing this other thing…” (Insert various medical lingo) 

The nurse said, “Because Dr. Calkins said so.”

The doctor said, “Oh.  That’s a good reason.  OK, let’s go.” 

He was not being sarcastic.  It was then I realized that it’s good to have The Big Dog on my side.

Usually when they put me under, someone says something to let me know the anesthesia is coming, like, “It’s time to go night-night,” or “We’ll see you in a few minutes.”

This time, I was just sitting there, completely covered with wires and electrodes, watching all the ports on my IV, and then… there I was again with Pinky standing there and people fussing all around me.  Chalk up another one… I was back in rhythm again and none the worse for wear.

Pinky said I was talking all crazy as I came to.  Too bad she didn't use the iPad to grab some video.  You KNOW I would have posted that shit for you…

By the time I was back through the recovery room and discharged, it was pushing 7:00 pm.  So much for getting back to work, huh?  My email box would just have to wait for the next day.  We took the subway back to my office area anyway, but went to dinner instead of work.  It had been 31 hours since I’d last eaten.

I totally should have trash-picked that pudding.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Stones Tour Continues, with Heart Opening

When we last left Our Hero, he had just been discharged from the hospital, following an attack of kidney stones.  The stone remained lodged in his bladder and he was to pass it on his own.

The hospital discharged me Thursday afternoon, and armed me with a couple of prescriptions: Cypro for the urinary tract infection that the stone scraping caused, and Percocet for pain relief when I start passing the stone.  We filled both scrips on the way home.

Once home, I went about the business of trying to get this thing out of me, by drinking lots of water and carefully examining my pee.

You know, I should probably apologize for all the pee talk in these last posts.  It’s just that it’s impossible to talk about kidney stones without getting into details that are usually omitted from polite conversation.  Of course, if you've been here before, you probably know that I tend to run light on “polite conversation.”  But I digress…

I figured it would be best if I worked from home on Friday, just in case anything moves.  Unfortunately, I was thwarted by tech problems, for which I spend a good part of the day on the phone with our tech support group in Bombay or where ever the hell they are now.  I probably should have just gone to work, because the stone stayed put.  At least I could have been productive.

Nothing happened on Saturday either, so I went ahead with my plans to go to the Orioles game on Sunday.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I ordered my summer’s worth of sporting event tickets in January, which I now have on hand.

As you can see, I have tickets for Penguins and Pirate games for next weekend, Pensacola Blue Wahoos tickets for our May trip to see the parents in Florida, and 3 games worth of Orioles tickets.  It’s that pair at the top left that was giving me a problem.

See, I couldn't scare up a wingman for this game; all my usual playmates were otherwise occupied.  I figured I’d just sell the extra to those dudes that are always hustling tickets outside the ballpark.  Worst-case scenario, I sit on the ticket and enjoy the extra elbow room.  (Although at $45 a pop, plus Ticketmaster Gouging Fees, that would be some pretty expensive elbow room.)

Anyway, it was going to be a beautiful day for baseball, so I donned my new Manny Machado jersey and headed down to The Yard.

I wish this was one of those knockoffs, but I paid $100 for this “Official Replica,” and got something that was far inferior to the knockoffs.  I had to buy the shoulder patch separately and put it on, myself.  Plus, they omitted the front-of-the-jersey numbers.  PLUS, the inner stitching was drawn on, not sewn.  MLB had better get themselves some better sweatshops.

On the way to the bar area I frequent before Orioles games, I chatted up a number of ticket hustlers.  Seems my quest would be more difficult than I anticipated.  No one was interested in buying a single seat.  I was originally hoping to recoup $30 of my $45 ticket; now I realized I’d be lucky if I could get $20, if anything at all.

Eventually, I found a guy who was interested in a more detailed swap.  I offered to give him my pair, if he could get me a better single seat.  I knew that would be a tall order, because I liked my seat… 2nd row, down the right field line.  While he went to find a suitable single, I grabbed some food… Hello, Italian sausage.  I topped it off with a cheeseburger.  It’s OK… there are no rules at the ballpark.  That’s why you never see salad vendors outside a sporting event.

The ticket guy found me again and said he had a single… 7th row, he said, behind the Orioles dugout.  I figured it was farther back, but closer to the infield, so I was interested.  But then we had a difference of opinion… I thought we should trade ticket for ticket, and then he pays me $20 for the other.  He thought I should give him the pair AND $20.  I kyboshed that notion immediately.  My goal wasn't to upgrade my seat; it was to recoup a little dough off my extra ticket.  We eventually agreed to swap straight-up.  Hell, I was resigned to eating the ticket anyway.

I examined the ticket to make sure it was legit.  It looked like a season ticketholder’s ticket.  But I probably should have looked closer.  See if you can find the problem.

Yes, the ticket was real, but look at the price.  With my seat down in the outfield costing $45, there’s no way a 7th row infield seat should be $27.  That’s when it dawned on me… this was the 7th row of the second section, back under the middle deck.  I was probably a good 35 rows from the field.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize all of this until I was getting into the ballpark.  I confirmed it when I got to a seating chart.  Man, was I ever pissed.  I had the dude’s cell number, so I texted him a message, thanking him for fucking me.

Of course, I paid the same level of attention to that card as I did the ticket, because there were two names on the card and I texted the wrong one.  No wonder he didn't know who I was.  Oh well…

I decided I’d stake out my original seats, because maybe he wouldn't be able to unload them.  After all, the game wasn't sold out, so people might be more inclined to buy from the ticket office rather than some shady guy in front of the bars.  The seats were still open when the game started, so I went down and sat in one.

Nice view… so far, so good.

Sadly, my good luck only lasted until the bottom of the 2nd, when a couple of dudes showed up with my tickets.  I considered telling them about it, but figured it wasn't their problem, so I just ducked out and retreated back up to the 15th row.  I knew there were a lot of open seats higher up in the section, because I’d scoped it out online before I left.  (If only I’d brought a seat map with me.)

Lower arrow is where I was supposed to be, upper arrow is where I ended up.

This is the view from row 15.  All in all, it really wasn't bad.  I just like being closer to the field.

So, I watched the Orioles lose from a different seat than I’d planned, sat in the sun and sunburned the left side of my face… in other words, just another day at Camden Yards.  So what’s the problem?  Let me backtrack.

After I shrewdly whittled two expensive tickets into one cheap one (grr), I went to grab a beer from the outdoor bar.  The beer was just pulled from the ice bucket, and was frosty cold.  As I took my second swallow, I felt my heart jolt out of rhythm.

You may remember from a couple of posts I did back in 2011, I've had two heart surgeries in the past, to correct atrial fibrillation.  The last one was done in 2007, and I've been in proper rhythm ever since.  I was NOT looking forward to stepping back on THAT carousel, so I hoped this was a temporary episode.  That’s why I went on with going to the game.  I hoped all the walking and going up and down steps would “jolt” me back into rhythm.

I considered going straight to the hospital after the game.  After all, Johns Hopkins, where I had my last heart treatment, is right on the subway line.  But with it being a Sunday evening, I didn't think they would have anything but a skeleton staff on duty in the A-fib Unit.  In my discharge orders, my doctor said that if I could get back to the hospital within 48 hours of going out of rhythm, they could do a cardioversion (where they shock the heart back into rhythm) without doing all the pre-op blood work and invasive tests. 

So I went home and dug out my old paperwork to look up the call-in number.  Turns out, I was right… the unit is closed on Sundays, and Mondays too, for that matter.  The instructions said to call the paging operator and page the Senior Arrhythmia Fellow on call and ask for a call back, which I did.

No one ever called back, so I figured I’d deal with it in the morning.  I planned to go into work, and call from there.  Once I talked to someone, I could easily hop back on the train and be from my desk to Hopkins within 15 minutes.

But on Monday morning, I found myself out of breath merely from the exertion of getting dressed.  That was alarming, and different from my past experience with arrhythmia.  I decided to scrap my going-to-work plan right there.  And that’s how Pinky and I found ourselves at the hospital… again, for the 2nd time in four days.

To be continued…

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The 2013 Stones Tour Continues

When we last left our hero, he had been rushed to the ER, comfortably sedated, and diagnosed with a 7-mm kidney stone.  We pick up the story as he is admitted to the hospital for the night and wheeled up to a private room.

An orderly wheeled me up to a bed in the hospital about 11 pm.  I noticed how eerily calm the place seemed, after hours.  It was like the beginning of a horror movie.

The room was small, naturally, but nice enough.  There was one chair, a kind of non-reclining easy chair, but it wouldn't have been very comfortable for Pinky.  We made the right call by having her return home.  Not that she slept much that night anyway.  Within minutes, she had emailed me a link to a medical website about kidney stones.  

The first thing I wanted to do was see what this thing might look like.  Like I said in the Part 1 of this story, when they said “7-mm,” I was hoping that was length and not diameter.  Later, they told me that it was, in fact, diameter, so I figure my stone looked like the one at the top of this diagram.

That thing reminds me of the Star Wars “Death Star.”

I was happy that the hospital had wi-fi service available for guests; that helped me keep in touch with various friends and family, as well as allow me to Live-Tweet my hospital stay.

I love hospital slippers.  They almost make the trip worthwhile.  This pair has the tread on 2 sides, so if I’m careful to rotate which side is “down,” I can get double the life out of them!

So as the Tonight Show gave way to The Show After the Tonight Show… (that’s Fallon, right?), which then gave way to The Show That’s Later Still  (the one with Craig Ferguson), I continued catching up on what was going on and corresponding with those that knew what was happening with me.  That was fun.  I really appreciated all the support, from across the land.

I might have tried to sleep a bit sooner, but I knew they had me scheduled for my next shot of Dilaudid at around 1:15 or 1:30, so I figured I might just as well stay up, since they’d have to wake me up anyway.  (They couldn't just shoot it into my IV because they have to scan my bracelet like I’m on a grocery checkout counter, and then have me repeat my name and date of birth, so they can be sure to bring me a cake if it’s my birthday.)

No sense getting woken up for that, so I played on my iPad.  So after they dosed me again, I decided it was time to try and sleep.  And you’d think that would be easy, what with all the heavy drugs coursing through my body.  But there were two problems.

The first problem was the bed.  It wasn't that it was uncomfortable; it was one of those auto-beds, that self-adjusts to however you position yourself.  It was actually very comfy.  The problem was that it continues to self-adjust every 5-6 minutes, whether you move or not.  I’d be lying there and then it would spring to life; the mattress would undulate for about two seconds, vibrating all the while.  It was like being strapped to a soft, body-sized cell phone.

This went on ALL NIGHT LONG!  They said everyone complains about it but there was no way to turn it off.  Of course, the Customer Service Manager inside of me was just going ballistic.  I mean, I understand that it’s good to have the bed shift so that you don’t get bed sores and stuff, but is that really relevant for a single overnight stay?  Somehow, I manage to survive a night in my non-movable bed without damaging myself.  It’s not like I was in a freakin’ coma.  So there it was… every time I’d start to drift off, the bed would shock me back awake again.  And once I was awake, I could pay attention to the other problem…

I don’t know who else was in the hospital that night, but it sounded like a Crazy Old Man Convention.  There was one poor old guy across the hall, who probably had dementia and was clearly terrified.  Any time they went in to see him, he’d yell, “Help! Help! Help! Oh God, help me!  Stop! Stop! Get it out, get it out! Help!

I could hear the nurses trying various means to calm him down, but neither reason, nor force, nor threats could quiet this guy.  Now, I’m a reasonable human being and I had as much empathy as anyone for this poor soul.  But after a couple hours of this shit I was ready to go in there, dragging my IV, and knock him out with my shoe.  (And it was a tennis shoe, so it would have taken a while.)  But I was like, “Oh please, just take whatever is in him, out, or put something else in, like some of the drugs you’re giving ME…”

There was also another guy on the floor who did quite a bit of yelling too, but I couldn't make out very much.  So between the yelling and begging and my possessed hospital bed, I didn't sleep worth a damn. When the nurse came in at 5:15 to give me my next dose of Dilaudid, she apologized for all the commotion.  I said, “Please tell me those guys aren't passing kidney stones!

Lucky for me, they weren't.  I was hoping this wasn't a peek at a little slice of my immediate future.

I managed to half-doze a bit until about 7.  When the nurse came in for my 8:15 medicine, I told her to hold off.  I wasn't in any pain, so I figured why rush the meds?  As it turned out, the pains didn't return.

The rest of the morning was mostly waiting for the urologist to show up and decide what they wanted to do with me.  I was trying not to get impatient, but I was starting to get pretty hungry (after having lost my dinner) and had been pretty thirsty for some time.  It’s weird when they want you to pee, but won’t give you anything to drink.  The saline drip just wasn't cutting it.

Finally, Pinky, (who had returned) went out to “raise awareness” of our plight.  She’s pretty good at that kind of thing… the doctor appeared about 15 minutes later.  That’s when he answered my “diameter” question.  He said that when they did the CAT scan, the stone was 2 cm from the bladder, and because my pain had suddenly gone away, they were confident that it was now in the bladder.  (And I was confident it hadn't gone any further, because I’m sure I’d have noticed.  I imagined it would pass with one of those cartoon gunshot “ricochet” sound effects.  PTTOWWW!

The good news is that they wanted me to pass it without surgery, which I was all for.  I figured, if it gets bad, they’ll give me more Dilaudid.  They were going to keep me another night, but in the meantime, I’d be allowed to eat and drink.  Halleluiah! 

I was concerned about not getting any sleep again… the old dementia guy was still carrying on… so I did a little recon and decided that right before I’d try to sleep for the night, I’d unplug the bed.  Pinky warned me against it, but I always say, “I’d rather beg forgiveness than ask permission.”  I didn't see anything else plugged into the bed… the IV drip was completely separate, and they weren't using the blood pressure cuff on me, so it appeared to me the only thing I was risking was a scolding… once I got a few hours of sleep, I hoped.

They also wanted me to start filtering and capturing my pee.  I've always been a bashful pee-er, so because I didn't want anyone walking in and startling me (which would probably make me twitch and start peeing on the fancy medical equipment), so I had to take precautions.  I had to unplug my drip machine, trundle everything into the bathroom, get my sweatpants lowered, get my hospital gown raised, and then manage to produce some pee AND hit the target.  That’s a lot of coordination for a guy that’s been on drugs all night.

I was concerned about the rest of the passage, but the doctor said the urethra the stone needed to go through is larger than the ureter it passed through earlier.  The “tubing” would adapt.  I was just worried about the “end game.”  I looked at “Bluz Jr,” and wondered what would happen if the stone got stuck at the end.  Seemed to me I would turn into some kind of lawn sprinkler, like when you cover the end of a garden hose with your finger.  I probably should have asked for a bigger pee jug. 

I never know what to do with the pee jug, either, after I've used it.  Do I display it on the bedside table, like the golden idol that Indiana Jones goes after at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Arc?  Or do I leave it stashed in the bathroom, where it’s liable to get knocked over?  What’s the etiquette there, Cassie?

Anyway, my pee must have been golden, because around 4:00 pm, someone came in and told me they decided to discharge me and I could go home immediately.  This was a mixed blessing.  I’d finally get some sleep, but I’d lose my access to the Dilaudid.  They gave me a prescription for Percocet instead, so I felt a little better about it.  I've heard good things.

I asked what they wanted me to do, like, can I just get up and walk out?  They said unless I felt I needed a wheelchair, yes.  I was like, “Hot damn, I’m outta here.” 

But I don’t think they communicate amongst themselves very well.  When I got dressed and went out, the nurses outside seemed shocked to see me up and intending to leave.  They had to call and verify that I was allowed to mosey.  I was all, “Hah!  In your face!  You don’t get ANY more of my pee!

I went home Thursday evening and began pounding water, hoping to get this thing done.  It didn't happen though, and by Monday, I was back in the hospital… but not for the reason you’d think.

To be continued… again.

(Note: Don’t panic… I’m OK.  I mean, I’m here posting about it, right?)