Category: Life Lessons


Throughout my years of wandering the hospital as an unknown IT guy, elders would strike up conversations. In nearly identical ways, each lived with loss and disability, yet they remain undefined by them. Almost to a person, they awoke each morning, serenaded the day, ate breakfast, and set out to seize the day or ‘get in trouble’ as one nurse phrased it. Sure, their knees hurt, and some couldn’t perform exercises like they used to. But, old age did not hit them suddenly. Instead, they got used to it, one day at a time. 

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As new Parkinson’s symptoms peel back any notion that my body can live in some delicate truce, I continue to reassess what I can and cannot do. For example, an Arizona State University study of Muhammad Ali’s public speaking revealed Ali exhibited symptoms of slowed and slurred speech several years before diagnosis. Researchers determined that Ali’s syllables per second slowed by 26 percent over thirteen years. But slurred speech was never my symptom, at least at this moment.

This week, left-hand tremor has become more prominent with the hands at the sides. A ‘Keyesence Detection’ test revealed, “The person has characteristics in their typing similar to people with early to mild Parkinson’s Disease. Tremor and movement exceeded normal ranges. An asymmetrical tremor of 4-6 Hz suggests Parkinson’s Tremor.’ But I already knew this. A tremor while typing has been the bane of my existence for several years. Tremor with the hand at my side has not. That’s new. That means Parkinson’s has progressed, even if ever so slightly.

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So, you might ask, “What the hell happened to you?” It’s a fair question. Yes, I know. Disappearing for 28 days is not something friends do to friends. Not even a peep. Honestly, I could have said, “Damn those extra shifts at the office.” Or, “Hey, I tripped down a set of stairs and wrecked my knee while attempting to avoid the leopard sleeping on the first floor.” Great story. Not true. I could have stated that I volunteered in some exotic land, assisting clinicians battling COVID. Another great story. All fiction. Instead, my excuse comes down to something easily stated but damn hard to combat: Brain Fog.

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So, I had my first cancer screen test. One was PSA, and the other was CEA. PSA (a Prostate-specific antigen) is made by the prostate and is usually found in semen, with a small amount also detected in the blood. CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) is a protein usually found in high levels of colorectal cancer patients. Most men without prostate cancer have PSA levels under four ng/mL. CEA is generally one or lower.

My PSA was .65 (should be less than <4 ng/mL) and the CEA was 1.0 (should be less than <2.5 ng/mL) “We don’t believe the problem you are experiencing (the improper manufacturing of red blood cells) is likely to be either colorectal cancer or prostate cancer,” the doctor informed. “So, something else is causing your problem. That problem might be multiple myeloma, but we’ll need to perform some further testing.”

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A 38-year-old man who needs a kidney transplant to survive refuses the required COVID-19 vaccination. The man stated that he was ‘born free’ and would ‘die free.’ Likewise, a 31-year-old Boston father-of-two with a third on the way needs a new heart. He also refuses the vaccine, indicating that it’s his body and his choice. According to news reports, both men continue to receive medical care but are no longer eligible for transplant surgery. A Go Fund Me campaign was initiated for the first, promoting the decision as a fight against tyranny. As a person who is dying, I feel for both men. As a patient though, when it comes to ‘death,’ there is no ‘born-free,’ ‘die free’ mentality. There’s just death.

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God Will Find You

“So, we have a couple of hours. What’s your story?” asked the nurse bending over and connecting the radioactive die to enhance the imaging. 

“Well, I started in the military to be one thing, and now I’m here, doing something completely different.”

“Not that story,” she muttered.

“Huh?”

“I don’t want to hear about the job you dreamed of and the job you are now. I want to hear about people. I want to hear about what made you who you are today? Give it to me straight.”

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The patient has to be proactive. May are not. Need an example? when the doctor seemed ready to breeze past initial blood results showing normal white blood cell counts, but red blood cells suddenly below normal, I forced her to opine. “Oh,” she mumbled while looking at the computer. “These results are way out whack. We need to run more through some more blood tests. I need to see if your results are iron-deficient anemia or something else. I don’t believe you have colon cancer, for the blood results are right for Colon Cancer. So, an Iron+TBIC+Ferritin blood test will be the first test.”Proactivity ensured doctors did not miss critical information, but I am unsure what ‘not right means.’

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2021’s Auld Lang Syne

In her book The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change, Pauline Moss detailed her thoughts on ‘loss.’ There were often no bodies, and thus no rituals for mourning. Rather than being tied to a specific event such as a vehicle accident or heart attack, losses from cancer, dementia, COVID-19 frequently extended through weeks or years. Every day deepened in ways that grievers could not register. Could such experiences even be considered losses? Boss coined a term to define the unclear (and often unacknowledged) absences as ‘ambiguous loss(s).’ First, 2021 was filled with loss, including my father, ex-wife, and ex-mother-in-law died. Next, my parent’s dog Skip followed my father’s death in August. And last, my ex-wife’s brother entered jail on Christmas Eve for securities violation. All of this was before my own perceived physical loss. Now that I’ve become aware, I sense father and son are eerily connected.

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“Holiday Travel is nuts,” the man said. “It’s just nuts,” he sighed. “I spent nine hours driving, being a one-person asshole that concluded with me eating a McDonald’s combo meal one (Big Mac Meal), waiting for a soft cast to placed on my ankle. I’ve yelled at people, flipped them off driving, zagged in and out lanes with abandon, and sped in excess of more than 90 miles an hour. Finally, I pissed off my sister, got mad at her, stumbled off the rear deck of her home, and sprained my ankle. Now, I’m eating a Big Mac. Alone! And you want a COVID test? Merry f***ing Christmas.”

Sitting next to him in the emergency room, “I still need to shove this Q-tip up your nose for a COVID test sample.”

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My body is tired of being alive. My body, mind you, is not dying yet. It’s just tired. Of all the daily aches and pains and the seemingly few restful flu periods this past year, my body is saying, “This sucks.” A May 2021 NPR article noted the irony of living in a pandemic, “If your brain feels foggy and you’re tired all the time, you’re not alone.” A moment of reflection produced, ‘Good. Now I have an excuse.’ I never put a great deal of weight into courage and bravery. Hell, most are clueless about what I am going through. Daily battles of pain, excessive blood loss with every bowel movement, hip, lower back, and knee pain seem to be my ever-present companions. I don’t care about being remembered as a courageous person. I don’t. There’s just an incredible emotional and physical toll in just getting up and heading off to work at this point in life.

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