Updates . . .

Two things we’ve done this past week have been upgrades.  The first was a new toilet, and the second was upgrading the bed my wife sleeps on.  Both require more exposition to understand.

When we bought this house 9 years ago, it came with that ugly “early ’70’s Harvest Gold” colored toilet and bathtub.  Now, the bathtub can be recolored, but not a ceramic toilet.  In addition to that, the tank on the toilet held 3.3 gallons of water, and used all of it for every flush, making it a huge water waster.  After talking to our plumber, we realized that if we replaced it now, we could pay it off in a year or two with the savings on our water bill, AND have checked off one purchase we would need for the future total bathroom remodeling project.  So we did.  The toilet we got has a dual-flush system to increase how much water we save.  When we only pass fluids, we can push one button on the tank and it only uses 1 gallon of water to flush.  When there is more material to flush, we push the other button, and it uses 1.4 gallons of water.  It looks great, and works perfectly. We’re happy with the result.

Shortly before we decided to move forward with that project, my wife made a trip to the chiropractor complaining about waking in the morning, EVERY morning, with back pain.  The chiropractor looked her over, and told her she probably needed a mattress that provided better support.  My wife took that to mean a firmer mattress my wife sleeps on. But, when she priced mattresses locally, the prices she saw ran from $250 to over $3000.  So as a compromise, I suggested we trade beds until we’d saved the money to get her new mattress.

Enter act 2 of that saga.  She had planned to go shopping for the mattress this morning.  In the interval time, I’d been having trouble sleeping on the same bed she did – to me it felt like a brick already.  I couldn’t imagine how you’d make it more firm, short of removing the mattress and putting a 4″ thick steel slab on the box spring.  But Merlin (one of our cats) decided to NOT let me sleep at all last night, and I realized it wasn’t about how FIRM the mattress was, but the unnatural way that my body had to bend to try to sleep on it at all.  The only points of my body making contact with the mattress were my shoulders, hips, and ankles – none of the area between those spots.  So, I had an idea – a Memory Foam Mattress Topper, to provide full support to all contact points of the body whether she’s on her side, back, or front.

When she got up this morning, I’d already briefly searched eBay just to prove my theory was possible, and explained to her what I’d figured out – including that the mattress topper was, at worst, half the price of the very cheapest mattress she’d intended to look at.  Also, no delivery fee, because she’d be able to put it in the car to bring it home with her.  She liked that.

Ultimately, that is what she got.  It worked so well, when she tested it after we finished installing it, she loudly exclaimed, “WOW!  This feels like one of those luxury hotel beds I always want to get lost in forever!”  Of course, the FIRST member of the family to actually sleep on it is – MERLIN.  LOL!

Sliding Doors . . .

There was a movie a few years ago called “Sliding Doors” about a woman who experienced several different outcomes of a single event of her life, based on whether or not she reached a set of subway car doors before or after they closed when she was on her way home.

Whether you call it imagination, or alternate reality, or parallel universes, I have the ability to see some of the alternate realities I might have had available to me, and that is what this post is about.

First, a disclaimer – there are certain realities of my life, as I’ve lived it, that I do not think it is fair to consider variable.  I do not think that anything I might have done would have changed whether or not I got a bone tumor in my left leg, or the migraine headaches that resulted from taking the pain pills after the surgery that it caused. It also is not fair to assume that any of my personal decisions would have changed whether or not I got kidney stones.  Those things likely would have happened no matter what I did.

So, with that said, let’s look at my personal “Sliding Doors” choices.

The first choice I can remember making which would fit this category would be my joining the US military.  At that time, I had the option on the table of taking a scholarship to attend college.  Based on the laws of the time, if I had made the choice to enter college right after high school, I would not have had the medical insurance to cover the surgery on my bone tumor.  The best case scenario I can think of is that I would have lost my left leg entirely when the bone tumor manifested.  If I’d been in a math or music major, it is still possible I could have completed my studies and progressed to graduate school, but I would have been in serious debt and not sure of affording the expenses attached to completion.  Thus, I can’t find it in myself to regret the choice to join the Army.

The next major “Sliding Doors” moment I remember was after my discharge from the US Army, when I was on VA Vocational Rehabilitation, and studying Computer Science at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS.  After completing one assignment in the computer lab (this was in 1983, and ironically the computer lab was in the room that is currently my wife’s office) I had some time to kill and decided to explore the computer database to see what I could access.  Within minutes, I found myself face-to-face with the Computer Science Department’s Dean’s private files, and had access to ALL of the grades of every student in the program.  Looking back, I suppose that it was an option that I could have gone to the Dean and told him about this, but at that time I just freaked out (it hadn’t been so long since Matthew Broderick’s movie “Wargames” released) and quit the program to avoid becoming an actual hacker.  Going to the Dean might have saved my career, but I’m not sorry that I quit.  I can’t imagine that I’d have done well in a career where my whole job was sitting in a cubicle typing code for computer programs that I didn’t care anything about.  Choosing that major was probably a bad choice in the first place, but the Veteran’s Administration wasn’t willing to pay for me to go to college for anything where there wasn’t “documented need for trained workers” – or, to put it another way, they were only willing to feed corporate wage-slave demands.

After that, my next crossroads was spiritual.  For a while, I entertained the possibility that my interest in all things spiritual was leading me to a vocation as a Christian Minister, and I enrolled at a Bible college in the minister’s program, still in the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation program.  2 things of note happened there.  The first was that the faculty of the school didn’t like trying to answer questions that I kept asking, and I was asked to leave.  The second, while I was a student I took a course in Radio Broadcasting, and became a minor celebrity throughout the region because of my frequent air-time on the Bible College’s radio station.  When I told the director of the radio station that I would not be continuing as a student, he asked me to stay on as a DJ anyhow.

So, either of those could have turned out differently.  I could have accepted that the questions were “above my paygrade” and stayed in the program by choosing to stop asking those questions.  If I had, I’d likely be a church minister right now.  And, yes, it does not escape me that because of the rule “If it isn’t written, it isn’t true” I’m likely still an Ordained Minister of the Church of Scientology, for no other reason than that they never sent me a copy of any orders canceling my credentials. But, I don’t use them.  The other thing is, I could have stayed at the radio station, spinning discs and playing classical music, and made a fair,  but low, income until I had the experience to move up and embark on a full-time career.  However, the job I held there was SUPPOSED to be for current students (at least when I was hired) and since I chose to leave the student body at the school, my personal ethics wouldn’t let me keep the job.

Those decisions pretty much set the stage for how my life has gone.  Of course, along the way I’ve also been a waiter in a restaurant, a dish washer in a restaurant, a lawn mower, a security guard, a taxi driver, and even been offered a chance to be an independent business owner (gifted a business that was already making $250k/year in 1982).  But, in all of my exploration of those alternative paths my life may have taken, none of them led me to marriage with the wife I have now.

It’s just my humble opinion, but I think this is better.

 

Saturday Posts . . .

This is a post of updates . . . .

Yesterday was my trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to the VA Hospital for the MRI to see if I qualify for the femor replacement surgery yet.  It was a day of trials on every level.

First, because there were storms throughout the surrounding area, from 7am Thursday until we left  for Fayetteville I only got about 2.5 hours of sleep. I was already uncomfortable, and it was only going to get worse. Just after we passed through Joplin, MO, we drove into a torrential downpour that we continued to drive through the rest of the way to Fayetteville.  However, by slowing down and driving carefully, we made good time overall and got there safely.

When the MRI was started, the machine they wanted to use wouldn’t work – something about the coil for the magnets.  So, they had to use a different machine that was slower and far less comfortable.  The first machine would have been able to do the 4 images they wanted in about 2 hours – the one they had to use took about 45 minutes for each image.  That may not seem like much of a difference, but it’s huge when you’re already in pain, and the area that hurts is the area you absolutely can’t move if the images are going to be useful.  I got through the first image alright, but after starting the second, I had to take a break for a bathroom trip, and that ruined what we already had of the second image.  By the time we finally got the second image finished, I was in such pain I couldn’t  repeat them with the contrast media.  The technician was polite and understanding, but I felt like I had totally failed.  Still, there wasn’t any way to change the outcome.

Fortunately, we had good driving conditions for the trip home, and concluded our day eating supper in our own home with our cats happy to have us back.  I did a little bit of more searching on the internet, and discovered an article on PubMed summarizing recent research into Total Femur Replacement (TFR) surgery (it was published in 2015) which indicated very strongly that I’m almost certain not to get the surgery.  There are significant risks of life-threatening infections post op for patients over the age of 50, and I turn 57 next month.  Combine that with my history of a bone tumor and already compromised immune system, and I’m simply not a viable candidate.

I sort of wish I’d known that a month ago.  I wouldn’t have wasted the time and resources.

Exposed a lie . . .

Yesterday was a very long, but ultimately worthwhile, day for us.  It was my first visit to the new VA Health clinic in Joplin.

Of course, being a new facility, it looked nice.  In fact, it’s so new that the installed TV’s weren’t hooked up to any programming, yet.  LOL! To me, that was actually a good thing – we didn’t have to sit through hours of TV commercials while waiting for my appointments.

Anyway, the new care team I’m working with is AMAZING!  Every member of the team is either a veteran, or directly connected to a veteran.  They all expressed that they want to treat every veteran the way they’d want their family to be treated.

A direct result of that was exposing a lie told by my previous care doctor.  The previous one had told me, many times, that the Imitrex he was giving me was the ONLY prescription for Imitrex he could write.  10mg tablets, 9 tablets per 90 days, no automatic refills.  Yesterday’s visit with the new doc was RUSHED – his nurse said the doc usually wants to spend 2-3 hours working with a new patient on the first visit (I got 15 minutes because of a scheduling glitch) – yet he heard my complaint about the Imitrex and had no qualms about writing a new prescription for Imitrex at 50mg, 18 tablets per MONTH, with auto refill.

I think, in the long term, this is going to be a better experience, with another positive change scheduled to happen in June.  That change will come from Congress, so we’ll see how it works.

Updates and/or confessions . . .

Well, it has certainly been a year.  My wife and I were talking recently about all that has happened since Halloween 2016, which was about when we put the gas fireplace insert in the house, and trying to do the numbers.

Here is what I came up with:

Fireplace Insert             $3500.00

Hot Water Heater             500.00

New HVAC System       4500.00

Refrigerator                       450.00

Car starter (2x)                 300.00

Repair Oil Leak              1000.00

Which, I do believe, tallies up to just over $10K in house and car maintenance, in just over one year.  On the agenda for the coming year – replace our 20 year old car, and try to regain access to our garage.

Now for the confession.  This is something that has been in the back of my mind since my Thanksgiving post about my friend Francine.  So far, we haven’t heard any news about a change in her status, but the truth is, even if there had been a change, her family would be so busy with everything that they wouldn’t likely be thinking of updating a Facebook page.

But, the fact that she is dying (or has died) from cancer got me thinking of how surprised I was to hear the news.  Which reflected back on me – some things I haven’t put in my blog, so none of you know anything about them.  While they aren’t as imminently life threatening as cancer, it still feels dishonest to not tell you what is going on.

So, let’s back up about 6-7 months.  I’d been using my home gym to build strength, and muscle tone, and I really felt things were starting to turn around for my health and fitness.  Then, one day I woke up, and couldn’t raise my left arm up to shoulder level in any direction.  The pain of attempting to move it at all was severe.  My initial reaction was, “Oh,, I probably pushed that last workout a bit hard, and I’ll just need a few days off.”  Well, a few days became a couple of weeks with no improvement, so I asked my wife what she thought I should do.  After some discussion, she said she thought it was “frozen shoulder” – something I’d never heard of before, and suggested I go to the chiropractor.  And I did.  It didn’t even take him a whole minute to confirm her suspicion.  “Oh, yeah, that’s frozen shoulder, alright.”  He ran me through some range-of-motion tests, then gave me some home-exercises to do to “loosen it up.”  He also said that, while cheap, this was the LONG, SLOW path to recovery, but it would work.

Now, today, I only sleep about 1 1/2 hours at a time, and it has been like this for 6 months.  I’m in pain constantly, and while the exercises have my range of motion back to about 85% of normal, the pain has not reduced one bit.  When bad weather affects arthritis, or migraines kick in, that is on top of the trouble with the shoulder.  It has reduced me to a babbling wreck more than once, as well as causing me to miss some past Saturday posts.  I don’t know what to do anymore.  I even have trouble remembering what day it is, without help from my computer.

So, this isn’t actually killing me, but it has seriously screwed up my quality of life.

Oh, and in keeping with the updates and confession theme of this post, the new program I’m doing for the migraines has had a noticeable effect now.  While the migraines aren’t usually as sharp as they were, they also don’t tend to go away anymore – ever.  It has been like this for a couple of weeks.

I’m ready for a new game, perhaps even a new avatar.  This one is busted.

Next lifetime – can I be Supergirl?  PLEASE?

More House Maintenance…

Well, we knew it was coming.

Nearly 7 years ago when we bought this house, we were told that the HVAC and water heater were both old. An average water heater has a life-span of 10 years, and the one in the house was already 18. I’m not sure what a normal life-span for an HVAC system is, but I’m pretty sure 45 is pushing it. This one was installed in 1973.

Anyhow, in the last 18 months we’ve had 4 service calls on the heater, so we knew it was about to go. Day before yesterday, we had to have another visit, and after spending 2 hours cleaning burners and electronic ignition switches, he stated that he’d done all he could and it was still uncertain. So, I asked him to have someone from his company come by to give us an estimate on a complete system. That night, the heat failed to light yet again.

The fellow who came to do the estimate was quite impressed that this old thing lasted so long, and said we’d definitely see some energy savings from getting the units replaced before summer arrived. As an added bonus, there will be an actual place to put the filters, so they won’t rub up against the blower motor anymore. It will be easily changed, too. After measuring this, that, and a few other things, he tallied the bill to – – – – $4600, installed.

So, my wife and I spent some time last night looking at how to juggle some plans and savings arrangements, and figured that it is doable. Certainly not the way we wanted to do it, but we can do it. Oh, and we got the bill in the mail for the water heater installation, too. It was just under $700.

So, a quick recap of the last 6 months of home maintenance:
$3500 Fireplace insert
700 Water Heater
150 Security light
4600 HVAC system

I certainly hope that’s enough for a while.

Continued home improvements . . .

I realize that sleep deprivation and nearly endless pain have made my usually sharp memory a bit more dull, but I seem to remember writing a while back about trying to get our fireplace fixed so we can use it for winter heat.

Well, I FINALLY got an explicit explanation of what made the fireplace “unsafe to use” – it seems some of the bricks in the enclosure are cracked, and the mortar is crumbling, in addition to the chimney liner being cracked.   There is no easy repair.  To make the fireplace able to burn wood again, we’d have to get a mason to tear out the fireplace and rebuild it.

Well, we looked around at other options, and selected a fireplace insert that runs on the same gas that already came into our home for the hot water heater and the furnace.  Except that, being brand new (as opposed to being installed in 1973) it will be FAR more energy efficient.  It cost us about $300 (I think) for the gas line to be run to the fireplace, and the insert itself cost us $3500.

As of Wednesday morning, it is installed and fully operational.

On other updates: I continue to be amazed at how the Dawn Redwood tree I planted in our yard is doing.  Less than two years ago, it was only 2″ tall when I planted it.  It is now over 3 feet tall, and the bottom branches have a diameter nearly equal the height.  It is looking GOOD.  Also, because of all the rain we’ve had this year, the trees the city planted along the new sidewalk grew so tall and so fast that I had to cut some off the tops to keep them from getting top-heavy.  Both are already starting to provide some (albeit small amounts at this stage) shade to the sidewalk, exactly as planned.

Annual Physical . . .

Yesterday was my annual physical at the VA.  I have a few very interesting updates relating to that.

#1.)  The doctor was suitably impressed with my weight loss.  We’ve been trying for over 5 years to get my weight under control, but last year when I got my annual physical I weighed in at 237 pounds, and at the hospital in Fayetteville a few months earlier I had hit the magic number of 248.  He asked me last year what I had done to drop 11 pounds, and I told him about my starting the Paleo Diet.

Well, yesterday I weighed 199.3 – with my 6 pound tennis shoes on.  The weights I record in my progress notes other times I’ve blogged about my Paleo progress have been on my home scale without the shoes.  So, my actual weight is closer to 193.

#2.)  The neurologist I was seeing in Fayetteville told me it was alright to take Excedrin with the Imitrex when I need extra help with a migraine – but he didn’t tell me that he put it in my treatment records that he feels PART of my problem is my irregular sleep pattern.  I wish knowing that could help, but it actually doesn’t.  The migraines are part of the CAUSE of the irregular sleep pattern.  I can’t figure out which magic wand to waive to suddenly start getting a solid 8 hours at a time every day.

#3.)  I had a rather humorous exchange with the doctor about my arthritis.  I was limping rather seriously while I was there – a combination of extreme cold and impending foul weather made my left hip and knee irritated.  He saw it, and asked if I wanted him to prescribe a cane.  I laughed – and told him that I have 5 canes at home that I can’t use anymore. When he asked why, I had to remind him that I have arthritis AND bursitis in my left shoulder now.  When the hip and knee are acting up, so is my shoulder.  He laughed at himself briefly and admitted that I was right.

At that point, he inflamed another concern – by asking me if I was ready to start thinking about hip replacement surgery.  I’ve been holding my breath, metaphorically, expecting this conversation to begin sometime.  I have thought it through pretty thoroughly, I think.  I told him that the door is certainly open on that discussion, but I’m not ready to face it just yet.  Then I reminded him that the REASON I have arthritis in my hip is that I had a bone tumor near that hip in the femur, and if we did a hip replacement we’d have to replace the whole femur with it.  He thought about it a few seconds and agreed.  I’m not ready to face a surgery that huge just yet.  I’m not sure I ever will be, but I know I don’t want it right now.

#4.)  My blood pressure continues to confound establishment medical professionals.  The basic rule of thumb, that I was told in 1981 when I was a US Army Medic learning to perform annual physicals, is that the top number should be the patient’s age plus 100 (or less).  That rule of thumb would make anything below 154 on my BP acceptable.  What confounds the doctors is that I’m 53 years old, and my BP is a raw 120/82 without any medication.

Thoughts on joining the PS4 generation…

Well, I guess it had to happen.  One of the games I play fairly often is DC Universe Online – aka: DCUO.  While I played it on the PS3, there was a limitation that I was terribly frustrated by: higher-leveled characters could use area-of-effect (AOE) spells and powers that just flat toasted my PS3’s graphics card.  The images would lag, load slow, or in worst-case scenarios the image would totally pixelate and the system would lock up.  It wasn’t just my system either – this was a problem lots of PS3 users would talk about in chat.  It has long seemed like the only remedy is to upgrade to a PS4.

In addition to that, there was another game, The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO or ESO) which a friend and I have been trying to play together, because we both like the series that preceded it and we can interact in real time even though he’s in Florida and I’m in Kansas.  ESO is not available at all on the PS3, but it IS available to the PS4.

Put both of those paragraphs together, and it was inevitable that I would eventually get a PS4.  About a week ago, I found a listing on eBay where a guy had bought a special (meaning more expensive than normal) edition PS4 as a present for one of his kids, only to find out that the kid didn’t like Star Wars (it has a  Darth Vader silhouette  line sketch on the outside of the box).  So he was selling it (still NEW, in the box) for over $100 off the usual price so he could get a different one as a Christmas present for the kid.  It seemed to me like a win-win, I get the PS4, his kid gets something he likes.

The PS4 arrived ON Black Friday.  I also ordered (via eBay) a copy of the ESO game for the PS4, from a different seller, that arrived at the same time.

First off, the setup process was a LOT more cumbersome than I thought it needed to be.  When I put in my PSN log-in information to access the account I had set up while gaming on the PS3, it went to a loading-screen that displayed a polite little animated swirling circle with the words, “PLEASE WAIT” – and stayed there for over 24 HOURS.  I still don’t know what it was trying to do, but I finally gave up and hit the “Back” button to escape whatever it was doing, and moved on.  Most of my trophies, friend contacts, and other such information seem to have been transferred alright, but I’m still not entirely pleased.

It seems that ESO has some sort of partnership with SONY beyond just making a version of the install software for the PS4.  ESO is a massive, multi-player, online game.  That is all that it is.  There is no game without being online and logged in.  But, ESO won’t even install on the PS4 unless you ALSO have a PSN Plus subscription.  The only real difference between ESO and DCUO is cosmetic, but DCUO was originally released for the PS3, and so does not require the Plus subscription.

I’m pretty disappointed with the PS4, overall.  It is not backwards compatible, which means that none of the games I already have for the PS3 will play on the PS4.  There are no PS4 versions of any of those games, except for Dragon Age: Inquisistion, which I don’t really care for because it’s so different from the other Dragon Age games it should have a different name.  I looked in the Playstation Store, and there aren’t many PS4 games at all, and the ones they do have aren’t games I want to play.

So, it seems that the only reason I now have a PS4 is to play DCUO, or take advantage of the social networking stuff.  If you have a PS4 and want to add a new friend, leave me a message with your ID, and I may hook up.  I would just put my account name here, but automated spam-bots troll the internet specifically looking for things like that.

Weird updates . . .

  1.  The sidewalk is complete – well, except for the fact that they didn’t get the back-fill of dirt along the sides done, nor did they manage to get the new driveway cement to tie-in to the old driveway.  There is about 6″ of crushed rock filling the gap between them.
  2. Our refrigerator has been – misbehaving? – for about a year now.  We tried getting the thermostat replaced, but the freezer compartment just doesn’t want to keep things actually frozen.  So, Friday afternoon we went out to Home Depot and looked around, and bought an upright deep freeze to put beside the refrigerator to handle the freezer duties.  The old freezer compartment will now be used for cold food storage that doesn’t need to be frozen.
  3. Thanks in large part to the new windows – our electricity usage went DOWN by 1,000 kwh last month, as compared to the same month the year before.  Now if we could just get the electric company to quit hiking the usage rates every time we decrease our usage . . .
  4. We recently discovered that, after about 9 years without access to this type of service, there is a new chiropractor in town who specializes in functional medicine.