Monday, October 27, 2008

What I've got

With four surgeries on my right knee in a month's time, 3 hospital stays totaling 12 days in a "Craftmatic" adjustable bed, and now three antibiotics intravenously entering my body for 11 hours a day, I've picked up a few things.

First of all, I've picked up an infection, and not just any, infection, a persistent, mysterious, booger of an infection, an infection, without which, I would not have been able to acquire all the things I will soon mention. This infection came as unexpectedly and stealthily as it was improbable. No one knows who let it into the original operating room. I certainly did not invite it. It was not a "special guest" of the surgical staff. It was rather a stowaway hiding somewhere in the vicinity of the soon to be surgical incisions. Whether he was dressed in a full-bodied radiation suit or was merely a super tough guy who held his breath as the surgical site was cleaned pre-surgery we still do not know. As of today, we still don't know much of this original bacteria guy and all the friends he invited over. We THINK it wasn't an MRSA strand, since the original culture never grew, but because the original course of treatment didn't work, we wonder if it was merely a Staph strand. After treating with the two big "gram-positive" antibiotics, Vanco and Zyvox, and STILL having some recalcitrant traces of these bad guys, a THIRD antibiotic, Zosyn, was added to treat any possible "gram-negative" strain. Today, we finally feel like we are making successful strides at excommunicating these microscopic peronsa-non-grata . . . whoever they are.

Other things I have acquired because of this ordeal is some great friends at the hospital. I have had some really great nurses, nurse's aides, lab techs, chaplains, housekeepers, and lost visitors looking for the room next door during my stay, each with a different, but friendly and helpful, warmth about them. Needless to say, I'm on a first-name basis with many of the scrub-wearers on the 2nd floor surgical unit. The nurses like me because not only am I the friendliest patient they have, but they say I'm "independent," meaning I'm not a nagging guy who's trigger happy with the "nurse call" button. They also like the "smiley face" cookies I share with them. They bring me smiles through the pain meds they administer me, and I give them smiles through baked goods. It's the least thing I can do for them emptying my urnial several times a day.

Speaking of urinals, I've picked up three now. Although they are really handy for an immobile, male patient with a full bladder, I'm not sure what use they could be at home. I hate to throw such perfectly flawless pieces of moled plastic away, especially with their graduated markings on the side, but my wife says this is one collection we will be recycling.

The three "handsomely decorated" insulated 32-ounce beverage mugs, complete with the hospital logo and corrugated bendy straw with the versatility of inserting on two different sides of the perfectly formed lid, will be a welcomed addition to my coffe mug collection. It was only withing the last few months that I began using my two hospital mugs from 4 years ago for coffee, since coffee tends to stain the inside, making them undesirable for future, non-coffee beverages, and since the mugs ended up costing close to $20 each (we found out later on the itemized hospital bill.) With inflation over the last 4 years, I cannot imagine what the cost of these "newly designed" upgraded mugs will be, but I'm guessing I've got a set of 3 worth $100. If they don't sell on e-bay, I'll savor every sip of hot coffee out of them and raise the "Christus Santarosa" logo high into the air as a mark of my courageous bout with bacteria and extremely uncomfortable hospital beds. If they DO sell on e-bay, I'll be trying to auction off the 3 urnials next.

Addittionally, I've acquired my share of odds and ends that the hospital gives to each patient without asking (that is "sells" to each patient unsolicitly.) I've got three "barf bags" that I think will fit nicely into the glove compartment of our vehicles for those regurgitation emergencies. I've also got two sets of slipper-sock thingies with sticky treads on the bottom. One set is size XL and works like a charm when I move around the dirty, cold hospital floors, the other is size "medium" and doesn't fit around my heel. My daughter is looking forward to wearing them this winter. Having only 2 pair from 3 visits, I'm guessing that I either failed to get them upon my first visit, or they were size "super small" and I just missed them. Sometimes I think it is more about the "billing" rather than the "necessity" or "wishes" of the patient. We'll be checking the itemized bill very closely once again to make sure they aren't frivilously charging us for more shampoo caps or "4 by 4" gauze pads than we actually used.

Another thing I have acquired throughout this ordeal is an entire drawer of white compression hose. Called, "TED" hose (name-brand), "anti-embolism" hose, or "sexy white tights," I have awoke after each of my four surgeries wearing a brand-new pair of them. My surgeon is of the professionaly opinion that wearing the hose helps keep post-surgical swelling down, helps prevent blood clots in the legs, and helps everyone around me get a good chuckle. Hey, laughter is good medicine, even if it comes at my expense. Just a few minutes before writing this blog, my doctor removed the drainage tube from my knee, wrapped it back up with the aforementioned "4 by 4" guaze pads (I counted how many" and then was dully impressed as I pulled my hose back up over the top without disturbing the pads on the knees, with the adepteness of a seasoned, veteran Rockette getting ready for a show. He WASN'T impressed when I started putting on lipstick . . . Anyway, I don't know If I'm going to be able to break this "hose habit" I've been forced to acquire. The unilateral support and comfort give me confidence and added warmth and stability. Granted, they don't look good with shorts, but perhaps, just perhaps, I may "sneak" them on in the future beneath my slacks. Just kidding. They itch, and they constantly slip down my thighs. I'll be glad to quit wearing them, but throw them away I won't, since I'm sure they cost me an arm and a leg (or two.)

Finally, I've acquired some major bills. Bills upon bills. Bills I don't even want to look at. As she did before, my wife will play accountant and auditor on this one as the insurance EOBs and bills start coming in. Did you know that the original ER doctor sent us a bill for $300. I saw him twice: once when he popped his head in the room and said, "What's wrong?" after which I told him my knee was infected, I knew it was, I've had experience with this before, and that the on-call surgeon was waiting for him to call him to the hospital so that he could do surgery. The next and last time I saw him was when he poked his head in the room and said, "I've called the on-call surgeon." I never even got his name. He never even touched me. He charged me $300 for a phone call! But what do you do? It won't be fun trying to figure out the finances, billing, rebilling, overbilling, and payment options on this one, but then again, none of this has really been fun.

As I was just told that I must spend ANOTHER day in the hospital, hoping to go home today, I guess the last thing I've acquired in all this was the opportunity to truly appreciate all the things I actually had before all this, things like a great, supportive family (moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles, . . .), personal strength, patience, and faith, super, considerate students and colleagues, an irreplaceable, unselfish network of friends, and finally, an amazing, patient, amazing wife, a woman I have been exceedly proud to have listed in recent weeks as my "next of kin."

No one likes bad times, but it's time like these that make us take a step back and reprioritize what really matters in our lives. The excess falls away, leaving the meaningful core, and this core is them something that gives us a firm foundation upon which to rebuild.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lost in the Woods

I haven't blogged in a couple of days simply because I haven't had either the time nor the energy. I thought and hoped that I was finally getting better, that I was finally out of the woods, but after two doctor's visits yesterday, I'm beginning to think that I'm lost in the woods without a map or compass.

Since I last left the hospital last Saturday, I've been feeling better, better than I was when I left the hospital the first time. Saturday night, Sunday, and even into Monday, I was actually feeling great. I believe it was the fact that the swelling was down in my knee combined with the euphoria from being out of the hospital for what I suspected was the last time. Whether I came out too hard at school on Monday or not is debatable, but Tuesday and Wednesday at school were days that were tough to get through. I was very tired, somewhat weak, and my pain level had slowly increased as my knee began swelling again. Although I was still proficient and enthusiastic while delivering my math lessons, I lacked my usual spark. With my leg raised all day long, it wasn't because I was doing something I wasn't supposed to. It was something else.

As my knee continued to swell again, I didn't know what to think of it. I have lost all sense of what is "normal" in a case like this now. Although the swelling was much less than last time and even less painful, it still seemed more than it should. After all, I am faithfully taking two of the strongest antibiotics on the market and I'm taking care of my leg the best way I know how. The pain was severe enough again to keep me awake at night. Tuesday morning, I woke at 1:30am. Wednesday morning, I woke at 2:30am. This morning, I woke at 2:30am again. Each time, I cannot get my knee to stop aching and throbbing enough to go to sleep, so instead I get up and read, watch TV, or grade papers to preoccupy my mind from the pain. I KNOW this type of pain at this point in my recovery is NOT normal.

Yesterday I had two doctor's visits. The first was in the morning with my orthopedic surgeon's physician's assistant, an incredibly nice guy whose bin in on the ordeal from day one. He said the swelling was likely from the surgery and not the infection, assuring me again of how aggressive they were when cleaning it out during the last surgery, spending over an hour getting into every nook and cranny, between every piece of muscle fiber, between cartilage and bones, and removing any tissue that looked even remotely like bad stuff. That made me feel slightly better, knowing that the infection was not the likely cause. He offered to aspirate the knee again, to remove the fluid to release the pressure. My wife and I both hesitated and said, "No." It's not that I feared the four-inch heavy-gauged needle, but rather, I feared what the color of the aspiration would be.

If it turned out to be yellow and thick again, that meant the infection was back. I'd have to have another surgery immediately, but my surgeon is Elk hunting in Colorado, and the PA can't go in on his own. Yellow would also mean that the two medicines I'm on are not working, and I don't know if there is anything else on the market that would work on "gram positive" bacteria. Essentially, yellow would be. . . . . you get the idea. While I sat on the exam table, I was wincing, grimacing, rubbing my knee restlessly, and moaning bit. Because of this, the PA offered once more to aspirate the knee, saying the pain relief would be instantaneous. I said, "let's do it." My wife wanted to leave the room, unable to bear the sight of the color, but instead I urged her (demanded) she stay, and she held my hand as the PA pulled out 45ccs (45ml) of RED fluid. Talk about double relief: the reduced swelling took the edge off the pain, and the color red meant the infection is gone (or leaving) and that the medicine is working. It was like I had found a trail in the woods that lead out, and I was now free to slowly walk my way out.

The rest of the day, back at school, the only pain I felt in my knee was the lingering effects of the long needle fishing around in my knee, a discomfort that was substantially less painful than the alternative swelling pain. I was really looking forward to sleeping later that night, as I'd finally be able to get comfortable and make it through the night. I even rested a bit during my conference period on a friend's sleeping mat. I nearly fell asleep right there on the dirty floor of my classroom, and would have done so if it weren't for the periodic disturbing sound of the network printer going off in my classroom. But there was still one appointment left, an after-school visit with my infectious disease doctor, Dr. W, a wonderfully pleasant, smart, down-to-earth woman who has been tracking all the numbers from my blood work. I couldn't wait to share with her my story of hope and success from earlier that day at the surgeon's office.

How quickly my optimism vanished. Being a math teacher, I tell my students all the time how graphs can be misleading. It is only by looking at the calculations, the actual numbers, do we know the exact story of what's going on. The numbers do not lie. Dr. W is the numbers doctor. She started with good news. The numbers for my Vancomycin treatment were perfect, which means the dosage level is good, and my body is responding appropriately to treatment. However, there were several numbers that troubled her. Staring at several sheets of numbers filled with lab results and blood work indicators, she said two indicators were above 100 and should have been 1/2 to 3/4 of what they were. For someone of my age on the treatment I'm on, those numbers should have plummeted by now, but were instead, alarmingly high. The single indicator that worried her the most was my blood platelet count. From the day after my last surgery to 6 days after that, my platelet count rose from 553 to over 800.

What does that mean? It means I was walking around dangerously at risk for a blood clot. The count should have either declined or stayed the same, but because it actually rose dramatically, she said that something is still unresolved in my knee. Tell me about it! Unresolved seemed like an understatement. She called my PA from earlier in the day on his cell phone right there in the office in front of me. I heard their entire 5 minute conversation about what to do about my knee. The PA was still of the opinion that I was great and getting better (as I had now believed), but Dr. W was recommending another surgery to wash out the knee. That's right, another surgery. My heart sank when I heard this, but it fell even lower when I heard the PA say that if they went back in, they would likely have to cut open the entire knee to get it cleaned out better, rather than arthroscopically again.Who cares about the big, long, ugly scar it would leave, it would mean a longer hospital stay, a longer recovery, and more time missing school, something I want to try to avoid at all costs.

When the phone conversation ended, Dr. W said cheerfully with the most happy face, "Some of the surgeons call me the 'Black Cloud.'" We shared a good laugh at that one, but I couldn't fault her for suggesting another surgery. Her comments and the lab numbers only confirmed what my intuition has been all along this week: something STILL doesn't seem right.

As it sits right now, I'm taking 325mg of Aspirin a day to help lower the platelet count, and we're waiting for my surgeon to return from his hunting trip. I'm supposed to schedule an appointment with him for sometime tomorrow (Friday) to discuss the entire situation with him. This will not be an easy task, as we don't know when he's getting back and the fact that his office and my schedules are currently "booked solid." The fact that I couldn't sleep again last night, even after taking the 45ccs out earlier in the day, means that the fluid has already refilled Dr. W's recommendation is probably what needs to be done. But I still have until tomorrow. That gives me precious little time to will my platelet count and the other two indicators down, to will my knee to reduce its swelling, to hope for a miraculous turn around, and to find that hidden trail that leads me out of these woods.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Like a Duck

Sir Michael Caine once quipped that we humans should be more like ducks, "calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath." Well, for the next 6 weeks, I'll be very duck-like.

Today was my first day back at work, and boy did it feel nice to see the students and impart mathematical knowledge to them. Only a day and a half out of the hospital, some might argue that I returned to work too soon, my insurance company argues that for sure (more on that later.) I argue that going back today was great medicine. With the help from our wonderful school nurse, who not only checked on me throughout the day, but who also has graciously agreed to disconnect me from my morning infusions, to the benevolent assistance of friends and colleagues, I managed to get through the day with minimal effort and ambulation.

With my leg up all day long, except that one time, I sat from my mathematical command center and pontificated the principal postulates of precalculus with the vim, vigor, and vitality of a vehement virtuoso who is NOT on Vanco. As I taught, I was essentially releasing all the pent-up teaching energy I had been curbing while in the hospital. From the front of the room, partially hidden behind the projection equipment, I did my best to personally reach and interact with each and every student, including the one in the back corner partially hidden by the large Stephen King novel she was reading. The math was flying, the funny was flying, my classes were absorbed in my waxing frenetic energy. Many students inquired about the medications I was taking, but I assured them that my enthusiasm and alacrity were simply a result of missing THEM and had nothing to do with any chemical alteration of my physiology.

With my cane by my side, many students said I looked like "Dr. House" from the Fox Network series. I assured them that they had me confused with another pill-popping, tall limping guy with a cane who extolls torture on his subjects and who solves problems in creative, eccentric, non-linear fashion. But even if that DOES sound like a commensurate description, I reminded everyone that the cane and the medications for ME were only temporary, while for House, I believe they are not. The other stuff will be there when I'm better, so nobody should get any ideas about homework going away or even getting shorter.

Everyone was happy that I was back today, well everyone except my home health care provider (HHC.) Upon leaving the hospital on Saturday afternoon, I was prescribed (that means I did not ask for, nor have a say in receiving) home-health care. This meant a nurse was to come to my home, educate me on the process of taking my infusions, change dressings on my PICC line periodically, and draw blood for my required labwork. Great! How convenient! The nurse that came out on Saturday was very, very kind. In fact, I had remembered her from my similar experience 4 years ago. She was scheduled to come back tomorrow (Tuesday.) Well, today I get a call AT WORK from the HHC office. I thought nothing of it, but apparently, my insurance company deems that I am not "homebound" if I am "not at home," but rather "back at work." This means they will not pay for the extravegant luxury of HHC. Dang it! I never thought of that! I felt horrible for the especially nice and considerate lady on the phone, another person who vividly remembered me from 4 years ago. My only concern was "get back to work, get back to work, . . . . ."

Now I am required to get myself to the hospital to have my blood drawn, likely "peak and trough" which means before and after I dose that day (3.5 hours later.) I'll also have to change my own dressings, which won't be a problem since my wife is an RN. I'm also going to have to get up and get things myself, like the remote control, my bottle of Coca-Cola, etc. Man, I was just getting that HHC nurse trained, too.

The most difficult part of this entire recovery is now something I'm shockingly remembering. It's not the pain. It's not the horrifically uncomfortable hospital stays. It's scheduling everything from follow-up visits with at least two doctors, scheduling routing "peak and trough" lab draws every 5 days, and working in physical therapy at least twice a week. And I thought my schedule was busy enough before all this just trying to get my two kids to all their activities after school. Now trying to juggle this schedule in between my 6 hours of daily infusions, not to mention . . . . uhhhhh . . . . my profession of teaching, is seemingly impossible and stressful. The next 6 weeks are going to be tough. Webbed hands and feet would be nice right about now, even if they did make it more difficult to blog.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My favorite PICC

I think this is how it is supposed to work. Feel sick, get medicine, get better. Both times I've had infections on my right knee, I've treated them antibiotics, and in both cases, the first treatment of the bacteria have failed. As it was four years ago, the second treatment of the infection feels to be working. Finally, today, I feel better than I did yesterday. And yesterday I felt better than the day before. I'm finding wood to knock on, but I do believe that tomorrow I shall feel even better than I do today. I'm actually scheduled to go home tomorrow . . . . sometime.

So why is the second-time around so different? Well, the doctors are treating it more aggressively. As my infectious disease doctor said, she's treating my infection now like it's osteomyelitis. When I go home tomorrow, I will have an infusion company deliver the same powerful antibiotics I have been getting here in the hospital: Vancomycin and Zyvox. To administer these medicines, I had my PICC line inserted this morning, my third in my lifetime. Twice a day for each medicine, I'll have to connect a pressurized ball containing the medicine to the catheter in my arm. Over a period of about an hour for each dose, the medicine will trickle directly into the superior vena cava in my heart. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Regular IVs would "blow out" or become scarred (not unlike my knee) if they are used for extended periods of time. By trickling the medicine directly into my hear where it can immediately be distributed, the line can be left in place for long periods of time, possibly 6 weeks in my case.

Of all the monotony and routine boardem at the hospital, I have to say the the 40 minute procedure to have my PICC line installed was thrilling! Not only were the nurses so very friendly, one of whom was kin to me, but they were playing classic rock, just as I remembered from 4 years ago. The radiologist doing the procedure was impressed that I remembered him from 4 years ago, but I assured him that I it's not easy to forget a cool, layed-back professional who stuck a tube into your heart while we sang Van Morrison songs together. And just like the first time, we sang songs and played "name the tune and band" the whole time. I won. I was actually a little sad that the procedure didn't last longer and that I'd have to return to the white, stale, monotony of my room. At least my wife would be there waiting.

Back in the room, watching the latest Sportscenter on ESPN, I heard that New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, who underwent ACL replacement surgery 10 days ago after a season-ending surgery, had to go back into surgery this past Wednesday because of an INFECTION!!!! If that news alone didn't make me feel better, to know that even the best quarterback in professional football who is getting, no doubt, the best care in the world, suffered the same unexplicable, painful affliction, I soon got more consolation news. It turns out that Payton Manning, the Colts QB, the OTHER best quarterback in the NFL who had knee surgery this summer, admitted to having another surgery just 4 weeks before training camp because HE too had an INFECTION!!! Wow! Now Tom, Payton, and I have more in common than just playing quarterback for our middle school football teams . . . . we're all three quarterbacks (or former quarterbacks) who have had post-op knee infections. Of course, I still have one up on them in that I had two to their one.

Anyway, I'm very excited about the Texas vs. Missouri game tomorrow night. I'm even more excited about watching in from the comfort, yes COMFORT, from my own living room, just me, my wife, my kids, the TV, and my PICC line. I'll be sitting by the phone just in case Tom Brady wants to call and ask for advice. I'll be sure to mention the "shampoo cap."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Feeling good and clean

It's lunchtime in room 215 at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital, although I don't feel much like eating.

Last night, the surgery went well. The surgeons cleaned out my knee more aggressively than ever before, removing any tissue they deemed might be remotely infected. As I awoke from the surgery, my pain was very different from the throbbing, constant pain caused by the swelling. Instead, I felt like my knee had been ripped apart. I could feel their aggressiveness via the stabbing pain, but I was glad to have, at least, a new kind of pain, one that would hopefully be temporary.

The doctor ordered some super sweet medication to help me sleep through the night, and except for being awoken for my regular doses of Vicodin, vital signs, and labs, I slept soundly and deeply for the first time in 5 days. Waking up this morning, the stabbing pain from the night before was gone. In fact, I didn't feel much pain at all. Was I dreaming? My dad soon arrived with some magazines, and I realized that I was really awake. He called in my breakfast to room service, a breakfast taco, a banana, and "the largest black coffee you can find." Sitting in the room eating breakfast talking to my dad, it ALMOST felt like he and I were sipping coffee in a coffee house, a coffee house with an IV pole.

In short, it was a good morning. I feel good for the first time in a long time. All my doctors have come by and talked to me, essentially saying the same thing: we don't know why this happened again, it's never happened before, we're going to put our heads together and try to figure out what to do, . . . . . My day has been relatively good so far, broken up by visits from the physical therapy woman who has been forcing me to straighten and bend my leg--very painful, but very necessary.

I even had the housekeeper come in and do an Extreme Makeover, changing the linens and sheets on my bed, emptying trash, mopping the floor, all while Shealynn helped me sponge bathe in the chair next to the bed. Before today, I never knew there was a "Shampoo plus Conditioner Cap," a warm cap filled with lather that you put on, then massage all over you head. After waiting a few minutes for the unscented conditioner to do its softening magic, you simply remove the cap, and towel dry your head.

It's not Pert Plus under a cascade of hot water, but it does have a psychological benefit of helping me "feel" clean. As of right now, it looks like I might get a chance to shower cap it through Saturday, trying to get home by Sunday and back to school by Monday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Results of the Aspiration . . . .

It's YELLOW!!! I'm sitting at the hospital going through the admitting process. The surgical team in the OR is already waiting for me. The infection is back, or it never went away. That would explain all the pain I've been having.

I'll be out from school the rest of the week, and with my tenacity and stubbornness, I'll be back on Monday. The last time I had an infection, the third one was the charm. I hope it is again.

Can you tell how well I'm masking my frustration and anguish?

As Pat Buchanan said to his military draft board, "Bad knee, gotta run."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aspirations of Red

Something's not right. Each day, although my knee is not getting worse, it's not getting better. The last two days, I've been back at work, sitting like I should, keeping my leg elevated like I should, taking my antibiotics like I should, but my knee has increased in its swelling during this time. The pain hasn't gotten worse, as in "intolerable, excruciating" pain but it has been at a sustainable "distressing, constant throbbing with occasional piercing" pain. Because of the swelling, which I HOPE is not from the bacteria restating its claim, my flexibility and mobility are severely reduced. Being an independent, aggressively physical, active type of guy, I feel like such a gimp inching around on my crutches. Throw in the character flaw of impatience, and you can understand why my situation is has now escalated well beyond "frustrated." I'm beginning to get downright angry.

If only I wasn't so tired, I might let out a mighty roar. Staying positive, going to work, smiling through the pain and discomfort, all requires strength and energy, strength I do not have and energy I am rapidly running out of. At some point, you would think that my bad luck with these "routine" surgeries will run out and that "law of averages" would prevail. Getting another improbable infection from a standard arthroscopic procedure is horrible luck, but additional complications during a standard treatment of a staph infection of a joint goes beyond bad luck. It's as if Providence is administering my punishment for me being such an awful guy . . . . oh wait. I'm NOT an awful guy. In fact, I think I'm a pretty nice, upright guy. So why all the unfairness? I can't answer that.

What I DO know, is that as bad off and unlucky I seem to be, there are people in this world in worse situations than I who are, perhaps, even more undeserving of their plight. If you want to see the people I'm talking about, just tune into Discovery Health Channel sometime, or watch "Trauma: Life in the E.R." There you'll find a man known as "the human tree," a man whose warts are so bad, and cover so much of his body, that he looks like walking bark. Then there was that guy in the E.R., a lumberjack, who fell off some machinery and had his leg partially severed. Yeah, those things actually make me feel pretty good. By focusing on the things that are good about this whole situation, like having a wonderfully supportive wife and understanding, helpful children, realizing how valuable I am at school to my students, and . . . . . . nothing else.

With so many others out there who would do anything just to be in my condition, like Tony Romo and his injured pinkie finger, it helps me get through my own misfortune, and reminds me that even though misfortune never does (miss), pain and fortune is all relative. I've just got to remove my blinders and enlarge my outlook. Easier said than done, though, especially as I lay in the dark each night for hours and hours on end grumbling and moaning shifting positions desperate to get comfortable. It is THEN that I think of that guy somewhere on this planet who has no eyelids who sleeps on his back on a bed of nails with a bright halogen lamp beaming down on him from above. Although it doesn't help me sleep, it make me appreciate the fact that at least I'm lying awake in the DARK.

Sleeping tonight will be a very arduous task once again. With doctor's permission, I'm going to try a pain killer/Benedryl cocktail to see if that won't help me to doze off. Additionally, I've got an emergency appointment scheduled with my surgeon tomorrow to aspirate the inflamed knee. Hopefully this will not only relieve the pressure caused by the swelling, but hopefully the fluid comes out red and not yellow. Red means "blood not yet draining from surgery, it should heal fine on its own not and I'll be able to sleep at night," while yellow means "infection is back and another surgery is immediately required to irrigate the site again, and I'll have to miss more school and/or spend more time in the hospital."

Who would ever have know that I'd be praying for blood. In what other context is Red so supremely superior to Yellow? Although that's a rhetorical question, I will have plenty of time tonight as I try to sleep to formulate an answer to that (in between moans and prayers for red, of course.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Teaching with Elmo

Today was my first day back at school in a week, 9 days to be exact. Not only did getting back to school alleviate my guilt of not being there, but it almost made things seem normal again. Not being able to drive myself yet, my wife not only took me to school this morning, but she carried up everything for me. She even forced me to use the elevator, which I would have likely avoided if I were on my own. Stairs to me are not just more adventurous on crutches, but they are a form of "rehab" for my recovery. Once in my room, there was much to do to get ready for the day, including rearranging my room to accommodate me teaching from my desk with a document camera, known as an "Elmo."

As she kissed me goodbye and left the classroom after getting me perfectly set up, I knew I was on my own the rest of the day. I felt momentarily sad and helpless. That is until the first student came in for help saying, "Hey, Korpi! Glad you're back. How are you feeling, anyway, I have a few question on the homework from last week . . . . ." I barely had a chance to talk about how my knee was still rather swollen and that I was still enduring constant pain and discomfort but that I was nonetheless glad to be back before I was solicited for math help. Yep, I knew I was back.

And so my day went, as each new student trickled into class, they'd ask how I was, I'd reply briefly, succinctly, and as humorously as possible. Students were there to learn math, and I was there to teach it to them. Discussion about my knee, the infection, stories of my hospital stay, etc. were kept to a minimum. As each student entered the room, their warm up problem was displayed on the data projector as usual and the quote board was filled with the typically healthy dose of new sayings, aphorisms, word puzzles, vocabulary words, and even limericks. Yep, they were glad to have me back. It was interesting for me to watch them try to find their seat as they entered the room. As a result of me teaching entirely on the data projector screen as opposed to the dry erase board on the adjacent wall, my wife had turned each desk ninety degrees to face the projector screen, making rows out of columns and columns out of rows. Most classes simply sat in an analogous configuration to what they previously sat, but some sat in the exact same spot, so that their old front row spot now put them near the back along the left side of the room.

Luckily for me, my old TV producer was kind enough to deliver the "Elmo" from the filming studios, which enabled me to be off my feet the entire day. To improve the visibility and increase the contrast, I turned off the lights in the classroom so that the only light source was the projector on one end and the sunlight coming through the windows on the other side. It felt a bit strange looking out at nothing but silhouettes of students as I instructed, but I still knew they were out there, awake, I wasn't sure, but physically there, I was certain. Not only was there a soporific risk of slumber by students because of the darkened room, but I noticed that teaching from a stationary point does not inspire the same quality of bombast or levity as does teaching from a more commanding, upright, mobile position. Although I did my best to be enthusiastic and entertaining from by chair in the dark at the front of the room, partially hidden behind the tall arm of the "Elmo," I feel like I was somewhat boring the students, if not myself.

I do hope this is an ephemeral situation and that I can be back on my feet by next week, jumping around, delivering my math in the fluid, jovial way I'm used to. But if today is any indication, that day may be far away. As I finished the day, I was not only physically exhausted, blame it on the antibiotics and their anemic side-effects or the fact that I'm getting about 1 hour of sleep each night as I toss and turn writhing in pain as my knee throbs and throbs with each beat of my pulse, but my knee actually was more swollen, in more pain, and less flexible than it was at the start of the day--and I had done what I was supposed to, right down to using the elevator! I'm guessing that because I was sitting at my desk without my bad leg elevated (it would put me in a very uncomfortable position and make it difficult to reach the digital camera platform), the blood just pooled in my knee as it rested all day long 18 inches below my heart.

Tomorrow, I must figure out a way to keep my leg elevated above my heart, while writing 90 minutes worth of notes on the "Elmo," working through the pain and discomfort to deliver a coherent, cogent lesson that is also entertaining and stimulating all while I'm being observed by an assistant principal for my professional evaluation.

It should be an exciting day once again.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mathematical Musings: XI

More of what I have purportedly said in class through the years:
  • . . .so the population comes out to 803,773.869 people. Mathematicians are very interested in that .869th of a person. Many actually like numbers better than people. People more concerned with humanity will give that .869th person the benefit of the doubt and make them a whole person.
  • When taking the derivative of an exponential function that is not the natural base, you must remember to multiply, not divide by, the natural log of that base. To help you remember: "P-roduct" has a "P" in it, and so does "ex-P-o-nent." Wow, when you say that really slowly with a certain emphasis, you might think is was giving you a vulgar command.
  • Well, our daughter was born last Thursday. We named her Jenna. Because she was born with so much hair, her middle name is Fur. Her full name is now Jenna Fur Korpi.
  • That was very deep!! You ought to send that into Reader's Digest. They have a page just for people like you.
  • If you just punch in the numbers into your calculator and hit enter, it spits the answer out, but you won't get wet because the plastic screen acts like a splash guard.
  • I have no use for a cell phone. I don't have an exaggerated sense of my importance, and I think talking to other people is overrated. Besides, what's wrong with writing a letter?
  • I didn't have to pay a thing for my home gym. I furnished it with free weights.
  • Today in class I reviewed subtraction with my students. I hope it made a difference.
  • You can bring your assignment to me this afternoon or tomorrow morning, whichever comes first.
  • I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, which wouldn't have been bad, except my bed is up against a wall, and now, I have this huge Sheetrock repair.
  • Why were you absent last class? Were you sick or just ill?
  • My son doesn't listen very well. No matter how many times I tell him, he just won't sit still while I tickle him.
  • I always afraid to go to functions where large crowds are gathered because in the event of an accident, I would hate to hear the words, "Is there a mathematician in the house?"
  • If we don't find the solution, who will? Should we employ a search party?
  • All the easy theories have already been taken. Hooke had it easy.
  • I should have started making these clever comments later in the year, because I believe I am running out of them.
  • When you sleep in my class, please have the courtesy to remain sleeping while I talk about you.
  • Don't believe everything you read in the dictionary.
  • If you think integrals are fun, let me tell you about double and triple integrals.
  • There is a limit at that point, and the limit is infinity.
  • Pardon me, I was just caught in a repetitive loop of self-indulgence.
  • The following problem could be on the test, but it won't, so take good notes.
  • The good thing about being a math major in college, was that the labs weren't very smelly, unless you count my unkempt TA.
  • Now where was I, before I so rudely interrupted myself?
  • Is he salivating because of my savory lecture, or is he slobbering on his desk in his sleep?
  • If theorems were people, this one would be my best friend.
  • On any Chemistry test, I think it's important to know your basic acids.
  • The only math I am requiring y'all do over summer is to count the days until you are in my math class again next year.
  • There won't be extra credit on the exam, but I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll give you full credit for everything you do right.
  • If each of you spent as much time studying for your final exam as you spent trying to find ways of making the test easier, you'll accomplish your goal.
  • You are all making me so angry asking me to leave class that I'm this close to granting your wishes.
  • Difficult problems are only torture to the dedicated math student who actually labors over them and is interested in finding their solutions. The rest of y'all only are interested in complaining about them.
  • I'm Mr. Korpi. This is my brain, and this is my dry-erase marker: my instruments of math instruction.
  • Don't be fooled by the proofs that I got, I'm still Korpi from the block.
  • I think I'll go to the barber today after school. I'm going to have my hair cut longer.
  • No, I didn't get a haircut, I just combed my hair shorter today.
  • The word is not rel-ishing, but relish-ing, which is the act of putting diced pickle products on hot dogs.
  • Korpi: Please don't ever call me 'guy' again. It's a little too informal. Student: OK 'man.'
  • Shhhhhhh. Listen everybody . . . . .Do y'all smell that?
  • You can use your notes on the exam as long as you use them inside your zipped backpack, which won't really help you unless you are a contortionist, but even then, I think it would be too dimly lit to see anything.
  • Just because you see me doesn't mean I'm here, anymore than not seeing me means I'm not here.
  • If you should find any mistakes on the exam, please raise your hand so that I can tell you to disregard them.
  • You want a hint. OK, here's your hint. "Look not in the grassy knoll."
  • Student: Can I burn my textbook? Korpi: Sure. Are you cold? I hear that math textbooks make good fire fuel, especially the chapter on logs.
  • . . . and I was so touched by her sincere gratitude in her 'thank you' note for the letter of recommendation I gave her, that I wrote her a 'thank you' note, to which she replied . . .
  • I'm persistent. Only after trying it from 90 different Angles did I get it Right.
  • If you have any mathematical emergencies over the summer, please do not hesitate to call me. I'm there to help.
  • Before you turn in your textbooks for the year, please remove the book cover that it never had and make sure it is your name that you never wrote written in it.
  • I'm going to try really hard not to miss you this summer, except if you were a bad student and I see you while I'm out driving in my car.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


No blog yesterday, as I'm not feeling the most energetic nor creative these days. I spent most of yesterday sitting as comfortably as I could on the reclining love seat amidst all the amenities my wonderful wife set before me, from magazines, to medications, to drinks on ice, fresh fruit, blankets, laptop computers, remote controls, and telephones. I DID have to get up to go to the bathroom, however. It was there I mostly read while doing small exercises with my leg, like muscle clenches, bending exercises, isometric contractions, and those infamous leg lifts. Who ever knew such basic things could constitute exercise, much less be so difficult and uncomfortable.

What has been annoying through this whole infection process, other than my inability to walk or be comfortable, is the constant sinusoidal ranges of my body's temperature. Continuing from my hospital variations, they are continuing here at home, likely because the the internal battle between good and evil, antibiotics and biotics. At one time, I'm freezing my butt off under three blankets with my teeth chattering with a temperature that has never exceeding 100.1 (Fahrenheit, not Kelvin), then a few hours later, my fever breaks and it feels like I'm in a sauna beneath soaking wet, stinking blankets. The cycle happens at least once a day. It's AFTER the breaking of the daily fever that I, after drying off, finally feel a bit "chippery."

Yesterday, after my wife came home just to make me some soup (she really is the BEST), I was not only very cold, but I was very tired and exhausted (perhaps too many morning leg lifts?), so I decided to take a nap. Three hours later, I woke up as beads of sweat were running into my ears and closed eyes. Both sides of my pillowcase were so wet I could have rung them out. By then, my wife and daughter came home and we had a little family time and a little dinner before they were off again to meet my son at church. I spent the rest of the evening reading and watching an all-new "Ghost Hunters" on the Sci-Fi Channel. By 9:00, I was getting tired again and again starting feeling cold. I didn't argue with my body, so I joined my wife in bed, who was ALSO very tired, for very different reasons.

So that brings me to today, Thursday. My morning today began similarly to yesterday's: waking in pain and discomfort and drenched in sweat. I have, though, already made some good strides today. I actually "snuck" out around 6am in the dark down the long driveway to retrieve the morning paper. For the two deer in my yard where were watching me, it must have sounded like a scene from a horror movie (do deer watch them?), as the awkward cadence of my feet followed by the clicking sounds of my crutches and an occasional moan as my bad leg "stuck." The whole trip took about 6 minutes. Back in the house, I read the paper in only 5 minutes, including the crossword--kind of anticlimactic--but it was still worth the excursion in my book.

After that, I decided to start trying to put some weight on my leg. Yesterday was the first time I was able to put ANY weight on it whatsoever, I'm talking ounces, and today I thought I could build upon that as the antibiotics continue their battle 24/7. As I stood at my little command center in the living room, a crutch under each arm, I slowly began switching weight to my right leg, more and more. I felt my knee lock into place--discomfort but no pain! Pretty soon, I had equal weight on each foot! Woo Hoo! Maybe tomorrow I'd be able to lift my left foot, but for now I was elated. I then tried walking from the living room to the kitchen and back, walking like a normal person, still with the safety net of the crutches beneath my armpits. I made it!

Next, I found my cane. I did the same small familiar route again with only my cane for support. I did it, albeit slowly, without much difficulty. Additionally, I was free to wave to the walls, pick my nose, or pick up my coffee mug with my free hand. Oh, the liberation! Although it's barely 9:00am, today has already been a success in my book. Now I think I'll celebrate my increased mobility independence by sitting down at writing the six letters of recommendation for students who were expecting them this week, letters I expected to write last weekend.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I'm Home!! I'm Home!! I'm cleaned up, have had my neck adjusted by my chiropractic uncle ( the first stop after leaving the hospital), and sitting comfortably on my reclining sofa with my leg elevated. I don't think I'll ever take this moment for granted ever again.

To spare everyone the boring, painful details of what transpired from the time we went behind the double on Friday evening to the time we walked out of the Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, I'll just give the painful essentials, a la Faulkner:

got on a table, difficultly, medical professionals notice I'm in pain, quickly determine its infected, without haste the on-call surgeon is called, meanwhile an IV sends the first dose of morphine throughout my body making me very sleepy and my knee slightly less noticeable, chaos abounds as orderlies run, walk that is, to and fro, time passes painfully but accordingly, next door a child cries, has been crying, will be crying, obviously in more pain than I, but I hurt until the surgeon arrives and preps me for emergency surgery, but not before I thank every one in ER land for being so pleasant, an awkward, dry exchange occurs between me an my anesthesiologist as the pasta in my stomach causes a problem for using general anesthesia so she coldly suggests something in the back and sharply cuts off her words for an awkward amount of time until I realize she's asking me to make a choice, so I assume the risks of general anesthesia on a stomach of Italian hoping not to aspirate it during surgery, but I assure her it was so delicious I didn't plan on giving it back from 6 hours ago, then everything goes black as I suck on oxygen in a bright, white, sterile I hoped, room, awaking in my room with my wife by my side and my knee still aching, but apparently without all the yellow puss on this Saturday morning, and there I lay and lay and lie and lie in my bed and about me being OK, it hurts really bad, I thought the battery had been removed from the clock on the wall, the morphine they give me every two hours only lasts about an hour and gives me a bad migraine, the nurses don't come when I press the button, and the come all the time when I don't, mostly at night while I'm trying to sleep, but I do have lots of visitors who come to see me, but my wife is there the most, someone I need there, not only for support, but to make sure the nurses are nursing professionally as only few do and many, most, do not, but that's OK, I guess, I'm used to it, but one thing I couldn't get used to was being sweaty hot one minute and freezing cold another, but my vital signs did show I was running a constant fever, but nothing, not proficiency nor neglect, nor any of the myriad of programs offered on daytime t.v., could take my mind off of the horrible pain in my knee, but finally, yes finally, on Sunday, I got a great nurse, a super nurse, a smart nurse who told me of a simple procedure that could have been done the week prior to surgery to avoid the whole infection, a procedure, that if done by my whole family, would rid ALL of us of any potential bacteria we were carrying, and that afternoon, my knee finally began to lose some of its swelling, meaning the pain began to abate, still severe, but manageable, and I could finally lift my leg and slightly bend my knee so I knew the antibiotics were working and I thought of going home soon, but then came Monday, and with it, more of the same, which involved more progress in movement, less pain, and waiting and waiting in that darn uncomfortable bed which was now beginning to feel like a piece of concrete with a too small, wet sheet on it so I was uncomfortable in so many ways, but I didn't get to go home since it was the first day my original surgeon looked at it and he wanted to check it out again tomorrow, reserving the right to reoperate on it again if he needed to to reduce the swelling, but he'd see tomorrow, and so for the 3rd night in a row I had to go without any food or drink after midnight until the doctor saw me the next day and decided for or against another sugery, which often came late in the after noon, which meant that I also speant most of my days very hungry and very, very thirsty, and my back was in so much pain from laying around and the c1 vertebrae in my neck was out long ago, so I was so uncomfortable in so many ways until today when my nurse told me that my doctor called and said all of my lab values were good so I was free to go and she proceeded to tell me about the people to call and the pills to take when I got out to continue getting better and then it was almost 30 minutes later on this very Tuesday that I left that hospital.

As the sun hit my face, I felt the windy, moist air blow across my face. It felt fantastic. I climbed out of the wheelchair and into my wife's car and gave a sincere, "thank you" to the orderly who brought me to my car.

Now the real healing could finally begin. One cannot expect to feel better until one actually leaves the hospital, and I was looking forward to spending the next 5 days to get myself ready to get back to school.

On a "stranger than fiction" note. One of my best friends who came to see me in the hospital in my room, actually entered the hospital shortly before I did for emergency gall bladder removal surgery. The room they assigned him to was a room he had been in just days before. As luck would have it, my vacacy created and opening for him, and in an unfortunate coincidence, he is now recovering from surgery tonight in my old room. I'll call him later and give him some insider tips, but I sure hope no one he likes too much comes to see him in the hospital, 'cause I'm not sure they're going to like the prospect of ending up their themselves in a few days!

I wish him well, but boy am I glad to be out of there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

We're Back!

Good Monday morning everyone. Today's entry is brought to you from the discomfort of my hospital bed at Christus Santa Rosa in New Braunfels. This 4-foot wide mattress has been my bedroom, living room, dining room, game room, reading room, den, and believe it or not, bathroom (don't make me explain that one, but I've done more than just sponge bathe myself and brush my teeth while lying here.) I'm going on the 53 hour of being at this hospital since the time my wife and I went to the Emergency room shortly after writing the last blog entry on Friday.

Last Friday evening, while my family went to dinner without me, I took some pain medicine and found a comfortable spot on the couch where I could elevate my increasingly swollen knee while grading a tall mound of students' quizzes and tests. With the end of the six-weeks happening, I knew that it was imperative that I take care of all my grades that evening, should any further course of action need be taken with my knee. After 2 hours, the grading was all done, and all grades were entered into the online gradebook. I felt a trememdous burden lifted off my shoulders . . . . . . . only to be set down . . . . . . . on my knee.

The whole time I was grading, my knee felt OK in the sense that I didn't think the pain or the swelling were getting worse. As I repositioned myself to eat the leftovers my family brought back from the Olive Garden (mmmmmmmmm Lasagna!), the movement sent shooting pains to the center of my knee. As I poked my fork into the red, pasty lasagna, it simultaneously felt like there was one sticking in my knee. As I finished up the meal, I knew that surgeons don't like to adminsiter general anesthesia unless the patient has been fasting for at least 8 hours. Perhaps I felt like this was my last, desparate attempt to stave off the infection that I already suspected was multiplying exponentially in my knee.

With my exhausted wife getting ready for bed, only after asking me 100 times if I was SURE I didn't want her to call Medical Exchange and getting the same short, negative reply from me, I decided I would get cleaned up and hit the sack as well, where I'd pray for a miracle in my sleep. As I slowly and painfully got out of the shower, no longer able to even bend my knee enough to step over the side of the tub, I felt something oozing down my leg. I looked down to see a steady flow of slick, yellow fluid escaping from my lateral incision. Before I even reached for anything to wipe it up, knowing that it meant I DID in fact have ANOTHER infection, I broke out in big, old, wet, man tears. Not only was it unfair, especially with my history, but it was soooo unlikely with a surgery like this one.

An infection meant so so many things that were going to disrupt my life for the next 6 to 8 weeks, including surgeries, pain, strong antibiotics, pain, medical bills, more pain, missing work, major inconveniences, more bills, more pain, more scars, more bills, and a continual, steady dose of melancholy. These things and more flashed into my head as I stood there in the bathroom. Most of all, I didn't want my wife to have to go through this again, as the last two four years ago took such an emotional toll on her as she worked full-time, job two small kids, and one helpless husband who needed every bit of her Nursing training in keeping my surgical site and PIICC line site clean, sterile, healthy, and infection free. It also meant the the new tile floors would have to take a back set yet again to my unfortunate medical bills.

After several paper towels, Shealynn and I finally got all the puss wiped up. It looked even more yellow in the white towels. I was able to pull myself together and even began to feel a little better as some of the pressure in my knee was alleviated from the escaping fluid. We soon go a hold of the ortheopeadic surgeon who was on call for my own doctor. He told us to go to the emergency room so they could verify it was in fact infected. There was no trying to convice him either through my past experiences or the most air-tight of mathematically logical arguments that I KNEW it was infected. I was hoping he'd meet me at the hospital at take care of it right away. I also knew that "taking care of it" meant an emergency "Irrigation and Debrisment" surgery in which the doctor washes out the area repeatedly, trying to rid it of the stuff that shouldn't be there. He then posts tiny"KEEP OUT" and "NO TRESPASSING" signs inside my knee for the bacteria who might think about retruning.

We left immediately for the hospital, knowing that the quicker we got there, the quicker we'd get to wait, and wait, and wait . . . . Once we arrived, I could feel my knee already returning to the pre-puss-profusion size and pain level. We found a spot in a relative clean chair away from the coughing kid next to the dirty spot on the floor. After what only seemed like an hour my name was called!!!!!! Wow . . . . . it was just to meet with the Triage nurse, who was finally going to assess my pain and put me somewhere on the list in order of how urgent it was for me to be seen. Meanwhile, the on-call surgeon sat a home waiting for a phone call. The triage nurse was very nice, and opted to put my name on the "non urgent" list! Really! She said I would get back faster and still see a real doctor, but because the "urgent" list was soooooo long, I would have to wait hours more. That seemed very oxymoronic to me, but perhaps it's a strategy they use when they have really nice guys like me in there with undeserving, painful infections in their knees.

Finding differernt seats in the corner under the television (our previous ones were quickly snatched up while we were back) we waited patiently while everyone in the waiting room was seemingly staring at us as they watched "Amazing Animals" on Animal Planet Network. Soon my parents came, and Mr. Wenzel. We talked and waited together. The pain was getting intolerable. I couldn't get comfortable. I decided to crutch it to the bathroom with my wife to try to "milk" out some of the puss again to alleviate the pressure and assuage the intense pain. The "milking" itself was excrutiating, but it as worth it. After 20 minutes or so, we returned, with my pain now at a 9.5 instead of 10 on a 10 point scale.

"Kevin Ku--ore---pee?" came a voice from a head that poked through the double doors. I said my goodbyes to my parents in the waiting room and my wife and I proceeded through the double doors ready to face this new infection once again, head on, together.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oh no. . .

With yesterday's blog about the mundane act of checking the daily mail, I thought I had written my last blog entry regarding my arthroscopic surgery almost a week and a half ago. Unfortunately I was wrong.

I am quickly becoming the poster child for people who should NOT have surgery.

All this week, I have been back at school on my feet, movin' and groovin' and letting the math fly as I spryly and adeptly moved to and fro along the dry-erase board that spans the front of my classroom. In fact, many students wondered if I even had surgery, as I was showing no pain and moving without any noticable hitch or limp. Doing my physical therapy on my own each day, I'd faithfully do my leg lifts and quad clenches throughout the day as I typed on the computer or watched TV. I felt like I was ahead of schedule, and that having to move my follow-up visit with my surgeon from today (It was right in the middle of my BC calculus class) to NEXT Friday would only give me more time to heal and strengthen on my own. I was suspecting that when he next saw me, he wouldn't belive I was the same guy he operated on because of my amazing progress.

That feeling lasted until the middle of the aforementioned BC calculus class: today around 11:00. It was then, when as quickly as students moan when assigned 30 homework problems, a sharp, enduring pain overcame my knee. It instantly became difficult and painful to walk. My mind immediately went back to 4 years ago when on 2 different occasions, litterally overnight, I went from comfortable to intolerable pain because of a bacterial infection in the knee. I quickly found the closest thing to real wood I could find to knock on. I didn't even want to let my mind wander there, but it did. Instead, I tried to rationalize that it was just because I had spent all week on it without crutches or canes, and that my knee just new the weekend was coming and was ready to take a few days off. Even now at 5:22pm, I'm trying to stay optimistic, thinking that the ice and elevation will alleviate my pain and discomfort.

As my next class came in, I knew I couldn't stand and teach for anther 90 minutes, only to follow it up again for last period. Walking was now very difficult. My students quickly noticed my grimacing, so I confessed to them my situation. They very quickly volunteered to skip the lesson for the day, saying that I should sit and take it easy. I admire there extreme unselfishness on a Friday afternoon. They talked me into it.

As students worked on an assignment from their textbook, I sat at my desk with foot elevated grading papers, occasionally answer questions from the class from the comfort of my chair. Comfort is a lie. My knee was really hurting. With a phone call from my wife, in no time, she came by and brought me my ice pack. She's so wonderful. I felt horrible for her to have to hear the news about my knee. Her mind immediately went to the possiblity of another infection too. I decided that because my knee didn't appear to be getting too swollen and the pain had not continued to progress, that I would hold off on calling my doctor and just monitor it closely. In my mind, I HAD to act as if this was just soarness from overuse and nothing else. I'd call medical exchange on Saturday if things got worse overnight.

By the time school got out, after all that sitting, walking was almost impossible without a cane or crutches. With arms full, I lumbered gingerly to my vechicle and drove home, singing constantly to take my mind off the situation. When I got home, the pain was no worse, but I thought I was going to have to crawl in. It felt like 10 minutes to get from my car to the inside of my house, each step feeling like pins sticking in my knee. I tried to forget that's what the infections felt like.

So here I sit with swollen knee committed to relaxing it for the entire weekend hoping and praying it's not what I fear. There's no doubt it is inflmamed and swollen, more so that it has been, but the pain is tolerable, and the infection pains were not. That's something to cling to. Only tomorrow will tell.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Going through the mail.

Today as I got home, I checked the mail as usual. Always eager to see if there is a bonus check from work in there or an anonymous delivery of an envelope full of $100 bills, I'm usually content to have only one or two bills, a new "Sports Illustrated" magazine, and as little junk mail as possible. By the way, Kohl's is having another sale today. Anyway, today, aside from finding money in the mailbox, I hit the jackpot.

Not only did I get a new "Sports Illustrated," but I got the newest edition of my "Runner's World" magazine as well. Although I cannot play sports now or run anymore (read my previous blogs regarding my recent knee surgery), at least I can read about people who do. At least I can still drive. Hey speaking of driving, my new vehicle registration sticker came from the county tax assesor/collector (yeah, that seems like a job for him.) I can hardly wait to scrape off the old one and put the new one on. I sure hope I get it on the windshield straight, lest everyone who drives passed me will know that I'm hasty, inept, apathetic, or all three!

Then there's the brochure from the local "Arts Council," a group who believes that the plural non-possessive form of their name is more "beautiful" than singular or plural possessive. With the fancy colored calligraphy on the front, I can't say I don't agree. I guess that's what they would call "poetic license." Of course, it doesn't take long to realize that the brochure is less of an update on all the artistic goings-on in the organization and more of a solicitation for donations, donations that are needed to further send out unsolicited mailings to Art and Grammar enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. They DO include a very compelling argument of "enrichment" and a few clever puns like "impART" and "become a pARTner. I WOULD like to support them with a donation, but I have too many magazine subscription bills to pay. I wish them the best.

The next brochure I came across was for a professional nursing seminar for my wife's continuing education contact hours. We get them practically every other day for issues ranging from "coping with club foot" to "helping people to quit smoking . . . again" to "cleaning and disinfecting paper cuts caused by opening junk mail." Today's 6 hour credit opportunity was not only "open to ALL professionals," limited to "one per person," but was to cover "Hormones & Health." Participants had the option of attending a real-live seminar, or an imaginary-word "Webinar" to receive real credit. I guess ALL professionals are expected to pick up on the cutesy, self-explanitory, eponymous new word to mean "learn about 'Health and Hormones' at home on the internet, where you don't have to actually talk to sickly, cranky people." The brochure goes on to list the course objectives, a very popular trend in education, such as "List the effects of Vitamin D deficiency in the body and current treatment options." HELLO! Hasn't the "CE International" company ever heard of "google?" That's MY definition of "Webposium," err . . . I mean "Webinar." Because my wife is currently up to date in her hours, this interesting piece of mail gets filed under "used coffee grinds."

Then there's the savory, colorful, almost scented mailing from our very own "New Braunfels Smokehouse," a local vendor that makes the most outstanding smoked meats and cheeses you'll ever pay too much for. You should visit them at Please tell them I sent you. They'll have no idea who I am, but I'd like for you to see the look on their faces. Actually, I went to school with the company president's son. I assure you, that you've got to taste their jerky, turkey legs, and sauerkraut, which reminds me, I'm supposed to be cooking dinner tonight. Text written in cyberspace on a blog is not very filling or nourishing . . . in the physical sense. I'd like to think that me typing this and you reading this is as mentally nourishing as a turkey leg from "New Braunfels Smokehouse" is physically noursihing.

The last piece, or pieces actually, of paper that someone thought was worth their pretty penny to send me was, a double dose of salvation, or at least an invitation to one. Normally, I feel pretty blessed to receive one flyer a week from the newest non-denominational church. Some offer rock music instead of traditional hymns. Some offer a casual atmoshphere instead of suit and tie. Some offer sermons that are hip, funny, and relevant to today's pressing issues as opposed to traditonal dry dogma. Today I was miraculously blessed with two, count them two invitations to two different churches. One's glossy, colorful flyer offered a taste of the Snow-capped Rocky Mountains as only Brother Theo can thoroughly sell here in the Hill Country. The other promised the prospect of skydiving, eating dessert, travelling, scuba diving, quitting my job, spending more time with my family, telling my kids I love them, climbing Everest, sailing, blowing all my money, giving more hugs, and making art. Whew! That must be some giant, well-established church. No. In fact, they were advertising all of this as their "Grand Opening" special!!!

This upstart church that is currently meeting at the local Y.M.C.A. is making big promises. Their entire theme is "One Month to LIVE!" Ironically, they offer 6 week sermon series showing you have to spend your 4 weeks to its fullest. At least the other flyer kept it mathematically feasible (barring a miracle) in its advertisement.

Before I tossed each of them into the recycle bin on top of the used coffee grinds, I made a conscious point to choose betwixt the two. I went with Pastor Theo and his Rocky Mountain imagery. I think it was the totally random picture of a Cheetah, yes, a CHEETAH, behind him that assured me that he had a sense of humor.

With that, I concluded the sorting of the daily mail, and I said a prayer that tomorrow would bring more anonymous envelopes stuffed full of $100 bills.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How much matter matters?

This weekend, I did a lot of sitting around, very reluctantly. After a few minutes of that nonsense, I started moving around, call it "physical therapy." Now, anyone who has a horizontal surface in their house knows how quickly it will become occupied with something. In fact, I think it has something to do with materialistic entropy: man will expand to the surroundings he can afford. Well, I have many horizontal surfaces in MY house, or "planes" as I force my students to call them. This means I have lots of stuff.

Married only 11 years ago, it's amazing how much my wife, kids, and I have accumulated throughout the years. I wouldn't even consider myself a pack rat, opting instead to get rid of things when their utility and/or novelty have expired. We've made quite a bit of dough through the years both through the tradition of making homemade bread on Sunday mornings, through our selling stuff at my Mom's garage sales, or in tax "write-offs" as my wife and I "donate" things to charity (call it the . . . . Sanitation Engineer's Union.) It seems, though, that for every one thing I get rid of, two or more things take it's place. When I look around, I'm beginning to thoroughly understand the late, great George Carlin's quip that "Life is nothing more than finding a place to keep your stuff."

I'm proud to be in the American minority of those that do not pay monthly rent on storage rental of any kind. Instead, I prefer to get rid of stuff the less expensive way. For instance, last year's Christmas presents quickly become this year's garbage or charitable donations (you know the Sanitation Engineer's Union is ALWAYS looking for donations.) That "thing" we bought "x" years ago that everyone "had" to have ("Tickle-Me-Elmo," "Furby," ANY toy or exercise equipment) is now decomposing in the bottom of some landfill, or collecting dust in someone else's garage. With this mindset, you would think that my house would be vacuous, but that's where you are mistaken. In fact, I have a very difficult time finding a place to set down my coffee in order to scratch my head as I wonder where to set down my coffee and ponder where all this stuff came from.

So I'm wondering: how much of this "matter" really matters?

For those of you who have long since forgotten your elementary science class, and who can remember elementary science when there was elementary MATH??, matter is something that has mass and takes up space. No, I'm not talking about the droolin, incoherent, senile priest from my parochial school days, but rather, all the material things you see as you look around you, even if its your mirror's reflection. As a society of capitalism, we equate matter with what matters, that is, we equate "success" by how much "stuff" we have. Depending on where we live, we are "successful" if we have more stuff than our neighbors. Since I live in a quiet community filled with many retirees, I'm definitely richer, since I have children in my home and something called a job.

But seriously, how do we accumulate all this stuff? and where does it all go? When I was young, I had a tough time thinking about infinity . . . . when I get to heaven, I'll live forever, until . . . . . a million years? . . . . a billion years after that? . . . . . . twice that long? . . . . . . times two? . . . . . Then I turned three and I learned about the auto industry: so many cars on the road and so, so many new ones for sale each year. I never saw a car older than 3 years old on the road, mainly because I was only 3, but also because everyone had a new one. The same is true today (although I'm well beyond 3.) Back then I struggled MUCH longer with the question, "Where do all the used cars go every year?" than I ever did with the question of infinity. I'm still puzzled by it, but I think they go where all the puzzles with a missing piece, the used-up coloring books, and the Ataris go. . . to that "other person's" garage, or stuck between the cushions of my couch (that would explain why mine are so uncomfortable----OUCH! Oh look, there's an AMC '77 Gremlin stuck inthe cushions! And look, the T.V. remotes in its glove compartment!)

The point is, even though prices still keep going up and it's costing more and more just to get by these days, we Americans still must have our "stuff." Shopping to us is recreation. If we don't have the money to go shopping, we typically go shopping to make ourselves feel better about not being able to. We overextend ourselves. We live hand-to-mouth. It's not surprise that Wall Street is panicking, that Lehman Bros. folded, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to be saved, or that the Federal Government is proposing a $700 billion bailout! Life has GOT to be more than just accumulating "stuff" then stressing over how to pay for it and where to put it.

Luckily, each time I look at my kids, I KNOW that it IS . . . if only THEY didn't want that new "Buy Me Elmo" doll that's all the rage.