Dear Diary, You Can’t Make This Shit Up

April 30th: Woke up this morning feeling punky with lower back pain. Had my plasma transfer on Thursday, and today is the day I start feeling normal again, so this caught me off guard. But I was in bed a lot these past few days and it isn’t unusual for the back to bark when I am, so I went about by business early this morning and picked up the groceries, but when I got home I couldn’t put them away because the back hurt worse and I had to lie down because I felt like complete shit. As time went by it got worse instead of better, and I could not understand what was going on until the answer came to me in a flash. I had K take me to the emergency room, where they gave me fluids and took a CT Scan. As I suspected, it’s a kidney stone – 4 mm. They gave me some pain meds and more fluids and sent me home 4 hours later. Got a script for anti-nausea meds and a few oxy’s if the pain gets severe, but I’m going to avoid those unless the Tylenol Extra strength stops working. I’m feeling much better now but need to see a urologist.

May 6th: Went to the urologist office. They explained that given where the stone is, it will take about 25 days for me to pass it. They also said that during its journey, I will feel it move from my back to the front, and I will notice it moving further south until it passes.  It could be painful at different points but if that occurs, I am to take pain meds and the anti-nausea stuff and call them if that doesn’t help. This will be my first experience passing one, because my only other experience involved a stone that was too big to pass (8mm) and had to be surgically removed. I also have a strainer to use because they want to see what it looks like at my next appointment, scheduled for May 29th. This should be fun.

May 14th: Woke up this morning and my body was on FIRE! Plus, my lower right abdominal quadrant, where I last noticed the stone, is so tender that even touching it is painful. My entire abdomen feels like I’ve done 200 sit-ups. So, I swallowed some Zofran and two extra-strength Tylenol, and an hour later I felt good as new. But the fever came back during the evening, so I took more drugs and was able to sleep. This already sucks more than I anticipated, but at least it appears the end is near. K suggested this was in the same area as my appendix, and that maybe I should ask my PCP, but I dismissed that because it is also in the same place I last felt the stone. One thing to worry about is bad enough, and I don’t want to sound like a neurotic patient.

May 15th: Couldn’t work today. Yesterday’s pain is not back, but the fever is, I feel so wrung out that I had to call it a day after three hours. This can’t end soon enough.

May 16th: Back in the saddle and got a full day of work in, I’m but concerned about the fever that doesn’t want to leave. I’m eating Tylenol like candy.

May 18th:  

9AM. My fever spiked again last night: 102.7 degrees. I think my fever on Sunday when this first all started was higher (I didn’t take it at the time) but something is wrong. I’ve had a running fever of 102+ since Sunday. The Tylenol kills the fever, but it comes roaring back when the meds wear off. I called the urologist and they told me to go to the ED because all the pain meds are doing is masking something that isn’t going away.

10:30 AM. Saw the ED doc. They are going to run the same tests they did on the 30th but need to do a COVID test because of the fever.

1PM. Blood tests came back with good results. The urine too. They did not detect any blood in the urine, which I thought was odd. The kick in the ass was I tested positive for COVID, and I am dumfounded. I do not go into public buildings without a mask (I am in the distinct minority) and avoid crowds. I’ve been out to eat three times in the last month or so, but wasn’t sitting near anyone other than the folks I was with. This is so bizarre, but at least now I understand why I’ve felt like shit for five days. I asked if that rules out the need for the CT scan, but they are going to do it anyway because my abdomen is still tender.

3:00 PM. A different doc just walked into my little room in the ED. A surgeon. He introduced himself and explained the reason he was there is because the CT scan results indicate my appendix needs to come out NOW! I’ve already called K to tell her about the COVID. She scheduled PCR tests for herself, Nidan and her 86 year old Mom who has COPD and lives with us, and now I have to let her know I won’t be coming home tonight. She won’t say I told you so, but she was right. I should have listened to her when she first asked about it. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around all of this. You can’t make this shit up.

May 19th: Going home today. The surgeon said the appendix was extremely inflamed and was not in good shape. I shudder to think what might have happened if I let this go a few more days. One of the questions they keep asking me is if I’m passing gas, and they were happy to learn that my fart glands are alive and well. K later told me when the surgeon called last night to tell her the surgery went fine, he said that while he is not a radiologist, he could not see evidence of a kidney stone when the previous CT Scans clearly did. Don’t know how that occurred, because I have been using the filter and I could still feel it before all this weirdness started happening. But I can say that about of lot of things these past five days. On a positive note, everyone else in the house tested negative for COVID, so I thankfully haven’t gotten the entire house sick.

Postscript: I am four days removed from surgery. I was given antibiotics, an antiviral med for the COVID (six horse-sized pills each day for five days) and some stool softeners. I need to take those twice a day because the last thing they want is for me to be constipated with the three new incisions in my abdomen, which made sense. I did not realize it at the time, but after I was plagued with constant diarrhea, I looked at the bottle the antibiotics came in and discovered one of the common side effects was diarrhea. Swell. I stopped taking those like a bad habit, and at least that is starting to improve. Here are a few things I discovered during this journey.

  • I would not dare attempting to fart without sitting on the porcelain throne because it would result in a mess. When I shared that tidbit with one of my cousins, he called that phenomenon Sharting. I kind of like that.
  • COVID is still thriving. The positivity rate in CT, which is one of the most highly vaccinated states in the nation, is over 15%. My nurse said they have more patients in-house with COVID than they have since the last surge. The vaccines do help prevent significant problems and death, and anyone who can’t see that is a fool. They are playing Russian Roulette with themselves and loved ones. I just don’t get it, and never will.
  • The worst pain I felt after surgery was not my abdomen, but my throat. They inserted a breathing tube during the surgery because of the COVID. I had it in for a little over an hour, and I woke up with the worst sore throat of my life. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for those who had to be put into a medical coma and survived that lenghty ordeal having had a tube in their throats for all that time.
  • I am still COVID positive, and the worst thing is a metallic taste that is constantly in my mouth. I’m sucking on lollipops and popsicles to try to combat it. This provides temporary relief but that’s all. It also charges the way everything tastes. Even water.
  • I don’t know how anyone who has a full beard can stand wearing a mask all of the time. I don’t have one, but do have a mustache and goatee. I like to keep it trimmed closely, but it got long and bushy over these last three weeks and wearing a mask was really irritating my face.
  • Speaking of masks, I received a number of N-95s from the hospital to take home and find it interesting that they come in different styles and shapes. The one I am using now is definitely not a favorite. I look like Donald Duck when it’s on.
  • My quest to lose weight is over! I weighed over 216 pounds when I started with a goal to get it down to 190. I achieved that by the time all the shit hit the fan on May 14th. Since then, I’d drink a lot of water, but there were days where I ate hardly anything at all because the idea of it was nauseating. I lost six pounds during those five days. This is the lightest I’ve been in over twenty years. Thirty-two pounds gone in almost five months. I’m done!

Stay well my friends.

WTF?

While I do my best to concede nothing to MS, I’m not reckless. I do what my body allows. Over the years I’ve become very aware of my body mechanics and consciously think about them whenever I am moving for two reasons. The first is because if I don’t, falling becomes a real possibility because my balance is completely shot and it doesn’t take much to throw it off. As a result, I average only a few falls a year. The other reason is the progression has slowly devoured my leg. Starting in the toes and feet fourteen years ago, it has insidiously made its way to almost mid-thigh. The ankle and knee bend slightly to the right when I walk, so I know that one misstep could cause something to tear. Needless to say, I am careful to a fault whenever I am upright.

So why the hell did I wake up Wednesday morning with a stiff and swollen knee?

It had become swollen before, usually because of strain I put it under when I work outdoors, but nothing like this. The joint was uncomfortably swollen, and weaker than normal too. At first, I freaked a little because I assumed it was the MS. I never had that moment where I stepped wrong or twisted it. I never did anything where I had the searing pain followed by immediate swelling and throbbing. So how couldn’t it be the MS? I reached out to my neurologist and made an appointment to see him the next day.

As the workday proceeded, the joint got stiffer, and it became a little painful. Then I remembered a day when I was simply walking from one room in the house to another when I felt a sudden pain in the knee and the leg buckled. Body mechanics, I thought, because the pain stopped as quickly as it came, and didn’t last. It was like a bee sting in the sense that it happened unexpectedly, hurt like hell, but only for a second before it went away. It was more shocking than anything else, and once I stabilized myself the knee didn’t hurt, and my walking was no different than before the incident. I don’t remember when this happened, but it wasn’t recent, which is why I hadn’t thought of it earlier.

Maybe I should see a doctor, I thought. Just in case. Long story short, the word blood clot was discussed at one point, which really caught my attention, but ultimately an x-ray was taken and the knee joint was fine. It was swollen, but as they poked, prodded, torqued and examined the joint, I felt no pain. I thought they were going to drain the thing, but apparently there wasn’t enough fluid to warrant it. Instead, I received a tapered dose of steroids to be taken over six days, with instructions to follow up if the symptoms didn’t improve. They speculated that I could have a partial tear or some loose body floating around in there, but since there was no pain, there wasn’t any urgency. Not that I minded. I hate needles, which you might think odd since I get stuck multiple times in my arms every month, but there is a big difference between hitting a vein and sticking something much bigger into a joint. Maybe it isn’t as bad I assume, but I’m in no hurry to learn.  

I’m on day five of the meds now and there has been no improvement. It’s worse, although it didn’t start that way. The day after the examination the knee was less swollen and felt looser. I figured they were right and stopped worrying about it. I still went to see the neurologist the next day. He didn’t think it was likely that this was MS related but understood my feelings about the pace of its progression. We decided to have a new set of brain/spine MRIs because the last one I had was over five years ago, and I left his office feeling positive about things.

Three days later, I can barely walk. I know what the MS feels like in my leg, and this is different. I’ve always walked slowly and laboriously, but never gingerly. I am now because I can’t put any kind of weight on the leg without feeling pain in one spot in the knee. I’m not completely incapacitated, but when I am on my feet, I’ve been reduced to walking slowly in a straight line provided I have a cane to take some of the weight off the knee. Even inside the house, which is a first. Stairs are tough.

Well see how this feels on Monday, but I’m not optimistic. Over the next couple of weeks, I will have to shoehorn an appointment with an Orthopedist and whatever they recommend, with a plasma transfer and Ocrevus infusion, and a brain/spine MRI. Swell! I long for the old days, when I rarely went to a doctor for anything, and the only times I was in hospitals was as an employee, not every month as a patient like I am now. The main reason early retirement is not a serious consideration is because of my health insurance.

I know I’m jumping to conclusions about the knee. I’ve been off my feet most of the day, and it does feel a little better. But as you can see, the knee isn’t pretty and something still feels wrong. The only saving grace is the knee is in the leg affected by the MS, so I am used to not having the leg be able to do much. If this was happening to the good leg, I literally would not be able to walk.

So off to another doctor I go, hoping to get answers and solutions. One of the questions concerns healing with MS. If they scope the knee and repair stuff in a leg that is consumed by the effects of MS, does that impact or compromise healing? It’s a nerve thing, so I don’t think it should, but I am curious.

Regardless, this needs to get taken care of because I don’t want this to linger when the warm weather gets here. My life is sedentary enough.

Disconnected

It would be an exaggeration to say I’ve been a funk the last couple of months, but something has felt off that I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on. It isn’t pandemic fatigue, although it exists. I couldn’t articulate until it came out of the blue yesterday like a lightning bolt. I’m not sad, angry, or depressed. What I am is disconnected.

When you have MS, and your physical abilities are limited, you’re a little disconnected already because social things like golfing are off the table, travelling is a burden, and even going to places like the beach is hard. Your social agenda and calendar are limited to visiting friends or having them at the house.

We also have the socialization at work, where you feel connected to your peers and the organization you work for. Speaking for myself, I can always get a sense of the mood of the organization, and the political dramas that play out when I am in the office.  Almost two years of working almost exclusively from home made me realize I took that for granted, because now we are faces on a Zoom call. It isn’t the same.

The pandemic has changed a lot for everyone, but not all of it has been bad. We’ve learned not to take for granted some of the lowest paid employees that provide essential services, like day care providers, folks in the human services arena, the folks who store the shelves of our grocery and department stores, and the folks who work retail.

We’ve learned, I hope, how critical our healthcare employees and institutions are. I say I hope because I know that nurses and doctors are burned out from not only two years of being on the front lines, but because this most recent surge has brought out a lot of the ugliness that resides on our society today. How else can you explain the anger and vitriol they have had to endure from those who choose not to heed the advice to get vaccinated, are angry about the consequences of their choices, and vent their spleen on those charged with taking care of them?

Being disconnected lends itself to feeling isolated, alone, and completely detached of communal support about anything. We all want to be accepted and feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves, but it’s hard when you feel like you are on your own and nobody cares. It robs us of optimism, self-esteem, and happiness.

I suspect COVID will be in our lives for some time. We will learn to adapt to it, and a new normal will evolve that allows us gather without having to think about the likelihood of getting infected. Some would argue we are already there, but when you have surges that push the infection rate from two or three percent to over twenty, I beg to differ.

 Some of the things that have evolved from this are here for good, and working from home will be one of those things, especially for people who aren’t in a field that requires being face to face with a customer, patient, student or client, like me.

I plan on going into the office once or twice a week this spring, when the weather is warmer and the infection rates are (presumably) back to the two the three percent range, and know others who feel the same way. We’re hoping it will help alleviate this feeling of isolation and being disconnected from anything normal or routine. If not, we may have to throw caution to the wind, continue to do what is needed stay reasonably safe from getting very sick or dying should we become infected (like getting vaccinated/boosters) and live life instead of existing.

Because the status quo really sucks.

I’m in shape. Unfortunately it’s the wrong one.

If I had to pick one word to describe 2021, it would be deprivation.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to like about 2021, January 6th and the fallout that continues not withstanding, and it was a hell of a lot better than its predacessor. But we all have pandemic fatigue, and you can’t deny that the way the year ended was a bitter disappointment. Variants are raging, and we still can’t get our shit together and agree to make the common good our priority because we can’t agree on what that is.

As good as the summer and early fall months were, my general outlook tanked when things started to tick up again, which wasn’t helped by a ten day period in early December where four distinct obligations were crammed together, the most pleasant of which was a colonoscopy. That period pretty much epitomized the state of my morale as the holidays approached. Then something happened that got my attention and out of my head.

A number of my blogging compadres, who also had also seemed to have gone radio-silent like myself, re-emerged. First it was Tom, then Grace decided to challenge herself by posting something every single day this year. Then I thought about Superman’s good fortune, perhaps sobered up a bit, and began to think about why I was so down.

There were a number of reasons, pandemic fatigue first and foremost. But one was the fact that I hardly wrote at all last year, my blogging output for the entire year being four posts. Four! I wrote so little that it was a struggle imbedding links to this because I forgot how to do it.

Not only that, I hadn’t touched novel number two in six months, and while I wanted to remedy both of these situations, the motivation was lacking. And on those rare occasions when the motivation came, the words did not.

Plus I was sick and tired of being stuck in my house because the infection rates in Connecticut were the highest they had ever been. It felt as if I entered a time warp and it was March 2020 all over again.

But if I’m brutally honest, there is one primary issue that caused my morale and optimism to take a nosedive.

I’m fat.

Like I said, 2021 was year two of the deprivation parade. There was so much I felt I couldn’t do to keep myself and loved ones safe, that I embraced some of the simpler pleasures in life that were pandemic proof, and most prevelant among those things were food and beverages.

And why not? I had given up so much, what’s wrong with a little endulgance? Unfortunately, “a little indulgence” wound up being a campaign of not necessarily eating too much, although that was part of it, but eating and drinking the wrong things at the wrong times.

I knew it was happening too, but didn’t care. Slowly but surely, my clothing became snugger and a good chunk of my wardrobe was no longer an option. But when you are working from home all the time and are in your sweats most of the day, what does it matter?

The first harbinger that I had perhaps let things go too far was when I put a dress shirt on for the first time in two years and had a hard time buttoning the collar. I got it done, but it felt like I had six pounds of sugar stuffed into a five pound bag. I suspected I was heavier than I thought, but deluded myself into thinking it wasn’t that bad and let the thought pass.

That all changed when the ultimate humiliation occurred a week or so later. I was trimming my toenails and struggled like hell during the process because my gut kept getting in the way, making it hard to bend, reach what I needed to reach, and breathe while I was doing it.

That was the tipping point. Realizing there was no point in kidding myself anymore, I climbed onto the scale, steadied myself, and looked at the digital numbers for the first time in a long time.

I had gained over twenty pounds since the pandemic started, but I was already five to ten pounds overweight at the time, so I am officially heavier than I have been in at least twenty years. No, strike that. I’m not heavy. I’m fat. Fat, slovenly and disgusted with myself. Standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror to assess the not only the volume of the mass that had accumulated, but the flabs that had emerged, was humbling to say the least.

But now I have something to rally around and focus on. I’m a stubborn guy, and once I put my mind to something it usually happens. I’m more than motivated to right this wrong, so I look at the new year as a time to forge a new attitude, and take control of my body.

My quest is to lose twenty five pounds in the next three months (but will settle for twenty), then keep it off, which has always been the hard part for me. Nonetheless, accomplishing this will make me look and feel better, which will improve my general attitude and outlook. Walking and maintining my balance is hard enough with the MS, so lightening the load can only help improve my mobility and make simple tasks easier.

The most important thing however is that I’ll feel Iike I’ve done something to take control of life instead of managing it like a cork being carried by the pandemic waves, content to drift wherever it takes me.

At least that’s the plan. We’ll see how it turns out. The first important step is getting on a scale that first time after the diet officially started because the result will either generate momentum for the upcoming weeks of deprivation or will make me want to say the hell with it, in which case you may not hear from me in another three or four months.

PS: This was written earlier in the week but I didn’t get around to proofing it until today, which was weigh in day. SUCCESS! Won’t tell you how much I lost, but I will say it was a pleasant surprise. This may work out after all!

The Ant Bully

Yeah, I know. It’s been a while. Three months to be exact (YIKES). I never expected that to happen, but it has been a weird few months in both a good and a bad way. The good is that unlike last year, socializing has become a thing again, which has been great. But it has left me wanting for more, and my patience, which has always been a strong point, is wearing thin.

Unexpectedly, my life has become quite mundane, other than the socializing part. These last few months have evolved around work, the house, medical shit, and a death in the family whose aftermath has yet to play out and will in all likelihood leave long lasting scars and animosity.

The ironic thing is that even though this year has been night and day compared to last summer, it has been harder to navigate. Perhaps it is because the circus (That was a slip because I meant to write virus) is still with us. There are actually several cases in our town, which I had not heard of in a long time, and even though Connecticut is one of the healthiest states as far as vaccinations and the virus is concerned, the rates are at their highest levels in a long time. I am sick and tired of the fact this country can’t get its shit together and agree on an approach that rids us of this scourge. What’s worse is that I don’t see it changing any time soon, given the selfishness of our population and the politicization of the issue. It’s depressing to think how much longer we will sink into this morass, and I am not looking forward to what the winter has in store.

The primary casualty of these eighteen months has been motivation. I expected novel number two to be mostly done by now, but I haven’t sat in front of the keyboard to type one word of it in months. Everytime I have had an idea for a post, it disappeared like fart in the wind when it came time to actually write about it.

I’ve had three weeks off this summer with not much to show for it, other than some stuff around the house. All you need to know about how mundane life has become is one obsession that I have become consumed with. It has galvanized my focus and, at times, turned me into a raving lunatic, unleashing murderous thoughts of violence, creulty and extermination.

What has created this toxic brew? Ants!

We’ve had ants before, but they were manageble. Most of the time, they were outside and you could see the swarms. But when they strayed into the house, a dose of boric acid and sugar around the perimiter of the foundation would do the trick.

We moved into this house in October 2019 and last year had occasional ants in the kitchen. But they were managable. I don’t know what happened this year though. We have gotten a ton of rain this summer (wish my west coast friends could have had half of what we had) so maybe this is flushing them out. Traps aren’t working one bit.

Instead of seeing one or two stray ants occasionally trek across the light maple floors, you see one or two at different parts of the house at different times of the day. Every single day! If you drop a crumb or something sweet or oily on the floor, they swarm in bunches. These are the little bastards too (thankfully), so when you see a dark cluster surrounding something on the floor you know there are a lot of them. It got so bad that when we woke up yesterday, they were actually crawling up the cabinets into the pantry, up the cabinets where some of the dishes are and the door where the kitchen garbage is. They were invading on multiple fronts and it felt like we were under seige! A dark, malevolent spirit consumed me, and I wanted to inflict hellfire and eternal suffering on these unwelcome intruders.

Instead of fireboming the place, cooler heads prevailed, which meant a thorough inspection and cleaning of the panty to see what was luring them, which is exactly what I want to be doing before breakfast. It turned out that a box of Cheeze-Its was the culprit, as I discovered two ants crawling up the side of the box and decided to explore what was inside. How they got in the box and the closed bag inside it is beyond me, but there were at least a couple of dozen in there and it pissed me off for the rest of the entire day and night. Needless to say, that box of crackers was tossed.

And we just aren’t finding them in the kitchen, although that is where the bulk of them hide. They are in the bathroom, the hallways and bedrooms. It is as if they have found the mother lode somewhere and keep sending out the soldier ants to forage.

It isn’t as if we’ve done nothing to remedy this, but nothing has worked. We have deployed traps in and out of the house, sprayed where we believe the bulk of them are with everything but boric acid (which has become hard to find for some reason) on more than one occasion, but the problem has been getting worse.

I have truly come to hate, and I mean REALLY hate, these little motherfuckers and wish I could somehow nuke them all into oblivion. Admittedly, this is a control issue more than anything else. Things are bad enough dealing with the pandemic and its fallout, and it feels like we have no ability to control or influence our external environment. It is too much to ask to feel safe, unviolated and in control of the environment at home? While I would not categorize this as an infestation, it is certainly a problem that seems to be getting worse instead of better.

I have become a neat freak, which is definitely not me. Everytime the I see something fall on the floor, it has to be vacummed or mopped. Everytime something is prepared on the counter, the counter needs to be wiped down. Dishes immediately into the dishwasher, not the sink. I am consumed with finding an answer because this can not stand!

Maybe this is the kick in the ass I need. It certainly has my undivided attention and has gotten me to post something for the first time in a long time. I know the winter will bring a period of solace, but we need to somehow find and kill the nest otherwise next year will become another year of discontent, and something more toxic will have to be employed.

Then maybe the peace and tranquility that has been so elusive for so long will being to settle in. In the meantine, I will have to be satisfied with finding them on the floor, pinching them onto my index finger, and slowly crush/pulverize them between the index finger and thumb. Hopefully their screams reach their colony and they learn not to fuck with me anymore.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

January 8, 2026

Having been cooped up at home for fifteen months made me realize a number of things. For instance, I have enjoyed working from home more than I ever expected, so much so that as we ease our way back into the social fabric, I’ll continue to spend more time working from home than in the office.

Another is the realization that as much as I have compartmentalized it, my disability is real and has become more pronounced. I have to take it into consideration every time I do anything physical, whether it be as benign as getting into and out of bed to cleaning the house or helping with outdoor work. I’ll write more about this later, but the cold fact is that every physical activity I undertake is hard because I am less stable and prone to falling more than ever. I used to think of myself as an able-bodied person who had a hitch in their giddy-up, but that has changed. I now identify myself as a disabled person who fights like hell not to think like one. The difference is subtle, but it is real, and it sucks.

The biggest epiphany has been that working from home has given me a taste of what it might be like not to work anymore. The idea of retirement used to be this vague notion that I knew was somewhere down the road but wasn’t a real thing. Not anymore. It is real, and it has a date: the title of this post.

I have exactly four years, six months and thirteen days to go. I don’t have a calendar where I cross off the days, or some kind of mental countdown. Nonetheless, having a milestone like this less than five years away makes it seem very close and very real, so much so that I am beginning to consciously plan for it, which is a first.

The idea of what I once thought of as being put out to pasture used to be anathema, but now I welcome it. Not because I hate my job, hate working, or hate the people I work with, but because of the freedom it brings. Maybe it is part of getting older and the mindset that goes with it, but I enjoy not having to shave or get dressed up every day. I enjoy my time off more than ever and actually look forward to it. This tells me I am ready to take the plunge when the time comes. Perhaps being physically seperated from my colleagues all this time has made it easier to embrace the concept, but there is no denying I have no doubts about my ability to enjoy retirement.

I’d consider an earlier date, but there are economic realities that prevent it. I need to finish paying for this house, so having a steady income certainly helps. My treatments are cheap and are going to continue for the foreseeable future, and I have excellent health insurance that meets my needs. Why mess with that?

Four years, six months and thirteen days give me more than enough time to chip away at my debt while continuing to grow the assets we will need to live on, and I don’t want to leave anything to chance. I want to be able to afford the health insurance I will continue to use need and use, and not have to worry about making ends meet. There is a certain number I have in mind, and we are close to getting there. Plus the full retirement age for social security benefits is sixty six years and ten months, (I’m not going to wait until I am 70, which is the max benefit age) so that is the target date.

The one thing I need to be sure of is that when the day comes, I have something to do that I enjoy and will occupy my time, because hanging around with nothing to do other than watching the minutes tick by is a fate worse than death. I doubt travelling will be on the agenda because the reality of dealing with crowded airports and jetting off someplace to see the sites is a lot more cumbersome and complicated than before.

I was never a gardening kind of guy, so that’s out. I got rid of my golf clubs ten years ago. I was never into fishing, but even if I was the same physical issues remain. So that leaves writing, and the one thing retirement will do is eliminate the excuse that I’m not writing as much as I would like because I don’t have the time.

For the last several months I have hardly posted anything to this blog and, with few exceptions, I haven’t devoted many hours working on novel number two, even though it is almost half-way done, because I work long days and don’t have the energy or desire necessary to produce anything good. That won’t be the case anymore when January 8, 2026 rolls around, so we will find out if that excuse was legitimate or bullshit. Maybe I’ll even resume painting, which I did a lot when I when much younger. I could also spend more time cooking, which I’m sure K wouldn’t mind one bit.

I have a lot of time to figure out what I will do, and a lot can change between now and then. The point is I have options and am actually looking forward to having to make those decisions.

Let’s hope my body cooperates.

Emerging From Exile

Spring has always been my favorite season. After the long, cold dreariness of three months of winter that feels like six, it is invigorating to see green again. Sun and warmth slowly awaken as the days get longer, grass grows, and the flowers and trees begin to bloom. The air feels and smells different, and everything seems bright and new. It’s as if everything is reborn, and with that comes a sense of optimism and a feeling that the slate is wiped clean and anything is possible.

The difference between this year and years past is that it feels as if the winter we have emerged from has lasted fourteen months, and in many ways it has. Although we got to enjoy spring and summer last year, the pandemic was still surging and we, like many others, chose to exile ourselves in our homes, and communicate with family and loved ones remotely. Human contact was mininal, and as the months dragged on, we became entrenched in our routines, stayed ensconsed in the comfortable cells of our homes, and watched the world seemingly implode. Our worlds shrunk, and it was hard to be stuck with the same people day in and day out for over 426 days (I counted them) without being resentful and irratable. Anyone who says their mood didn’t change one bit during all of this is either lying or delusional.

For me, the last three months have been especially long, primarily because we could finally see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train, but were still on the endless treadmill of keeping ourselves safe, which meant continued isolation while waiting for the vaccines to arrive. I found the process tedious, frustrating, and it sapped all of my creative juices. I couldn’t think of anything to blog about without it sounding whiny or like a broken record. I haven’t spent nearly the amount of time I had hoped to on novel number two, and have generally been unable to enjoy anything. I’ve been existing, not living, as if on automatic pilot. The daily routine always revolved around a combination of the following: Get up, work, eat, take care of the house, go out occasionally for essentials, try not to get into an argument, try to find someting new and interesting on television, sleep. It was like Groundhog’s Day on steroids.

But things have changed. We’re all vaccinated now, and within ten days all of us will have passed the two week threshold. We can get back to a sense of normalcy that has been lost, and an emotion that has long been absent is returning with a vengance: hope.

How symbolic is that this has occurred during a season that symbolizes rebirth? As I have ventured out more these last couple of weeks, I am noticing little things that I have long taken for granted, like the sight of a robin, flowers blooming, or the bright green color of the new leaves as they begin to sprout from their limbs. I notice the fresh crispness in the air, and the smell of ozone after a thunderstorm or heavy rain. It is as if I was blind to all these things, but being deprived of them for so long has allowed me to experience them as if it were the first time.

My hope is to not waste the lessons learned from this nightmare we are awakening from. Namely, make time for family and friends because they are important. Enjoy the outdoors and the wonder and beauty that Mother Nature has to offer, and do whatever you can to help sustain and protect it. Be kind to one another and not let differences of opinion become open warfare.

That last one may be wishful thinking, at least in the short term. I wish the lesson everyone could take out of this is to stop being so fucking selfish and end the dissension and polarization that has become so entrenched in our politics how we interact with one another. After all the hardship and death that has dominated life for what feels like forever, doesn’t it make sense to move past our greivances and try to find common ground? Hopefully we will get there over time, but that is a different subject for a different day.

For now, I want to bathe in a renewed sense of optimism and freedom. Even thought the experience was awful and has left scars, I want to celebrate the fact that the worst is over, and and everyone I love is still here. The new normal will be different, but the fact that we are actually visiting friends in person tomorrow for the first time in fourteen months is liberating. No masks required is the cherry on top.

It couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Who knows, if things continue to proecced in this direction, I might actually enjoy next winter for a change.

Existing

Ever since Inauguration Day I have been in a funk. I had been so crazed and consumed about what was going on politically since Labor Day that it occupied any down time that existed. And the fact that I may not have enjoyed what I was hearing from day to day was irrelevant.

Now that a new administration is in place, I have stopped following, watching, and obsessing over the news because I really do hate politics. What’s the difference between now and then, you may ask? The difference is my previous obsession had nothing to do with politics. It had everything to do with me feeling unsafe in my own country with a demagogue doing everything he could to hold onto power and sow division, in addition to not having a government that had a clue about how to address the raging COVID spread.

Now that those concerns have been alleviated, I am no longer obsessed. I keep tabs by watching the newsfeeds that cross my phone apps, and choose to dive into whatever strikes me, which hasn’t been a lot. So all of a sudden, I have a void to fill with little to replace it. Instead, I have been very introspective, which is rarely good. The byproduct of all my deep thought is this: we aren’t living, we are existing. It sucks beyond belief, and keeps sucking more with each passing day.

For me, this is about enjoying life and having shit to look forward to. You could argue that we do have something to look forward now that there is a vaccine and a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel that isn’t a speeding sixteen wheeler. That is difficult however, at least for me, because we have had to live in isolation for the last eleven months to stay healthy. Each passing week feels like a month, and while we are on the downhill side of this, I am sick and tired of the waiting.

We haven’t had much personal connection with human beings outside the family. Instead we Zoom or Skype, and while that is better than nothing, it isn’t the same. I have been working from home exclusively during this span, and while I have taken to it more than I thought I would, all that family closeness can get on one’s nerves. We are all experiencing similar things, are on edge, grumpy as hell, and quick to show our frustration, which often comes out as anger. Patience has become a scarce commodity.

Unlike my son, who loves nature and the outdoors, I can’t hike in the woods, go exploring, or even take long walks because of my physical limitations. Travel and vacations are non-starters, so all I have left is television, reading, computer games and my imagination.

I was never a big TV guy to being with, and there isn’t much good left on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Peacock, or any of those platforms because we’ve watched all the good stuff and there is little to replace it. Winter sports only provide so much diversion, and even those can’t be relied upon because the virus keeps upsetting the schedule and postponing games. Baseball is at least two months away if not more. Reading requires motivation and enthusiasm, both of which are in short supply. So does writing, and the novel has therefore been a slow go.

And far as my imagination is concerned, it isn’t very fertile, otherwise the novel would be a lot further along than it is. My powers of observation remain strong and could be used to my creative benefit, but the only epiphanies I have had been are mundane and self-absorbed.

For example, I have observed that the knee on my bad leg is swollen and misshapen, probably because my gait changed a long time ago and my foot never points forward, but at an angle. I have observed that the hair on my legs, of which there used to be a lot, is gone. I have also observed that my skin has become paper thin because it cuts easily and bleeds like hell when it does. For example, two nights ago as I was getting ready to take a shower, I noticed a big splotch of dried blood that was the size of a silver dollar on my shin, and I had no idea what caused it or that it had even occurred. When I cleaned it up there were two wounds that looked like punctures, but I don’t remember hitting myself or banging into something, and this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened. I have since concluded that the hair and skin must be the result of all the heavy duty MS drugs I have taken and continue to take.

This then leads to me wonder what the consequences are going to be resulting from the fact I have suspended treatments two months longer than normal because I can’t do those AND get the vaccine. Will this allow the symptoms to progress, and if so will the changes become permanent? I don’t think like that when I’m busy and engaged.

In hindsight, one of the reasons I let my hair and beard grow was because it was something new and gave me something to be focused upon and be entertained by. But like everything else during this shit show, both got too unruly and unmanageable. My mother-in-law told K that I looked like Father Time, for God’s sake. So I hacked the beard off but was at a quandary about what to do with the hair because I didn’t want to go to a salon. I finally said fuck it, and had K cut it. She did a great job too. The end result is hair that is the shortest is has been since I went to basic training over forty years ago. On the plus side, everyone says I look ten years younger.

As rosy as the future looks compared to eleven months ago, it is mentally draining trying to stay upbeat and optimistic, and this is coming from a guy whose glass is always half full.

Thank God for work! I am lucky as hell that my work situation has not been compromised or interrupted in the slightest. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know what I would do, other than freak out about keeping the house and supporting the family. I realize many are in that unfortunate situation, worrying about food and shelter every minute of every day. So in that regards I feel silly about complaining or being maudlin because all my stuff is superficial and selfish by comparison.

See, the optimistic, glass-half full, things will be better, don’t worry-be happy guy still exists. Still, this shit can’t end soon enough! And when it does, I want to throw the biggest, longest, most outrageous, anything goes celebration that lasts an entire weekend.

Everyone is invited!

Good Riddance

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

I don’t think I have ever looked forward to the turning of a page to a new year than I have this one. While I suspect we won’t be back to whatever a new normal is until late 2021 early 2022, and that these next three months are going to be among the worst we have experienced so far, at least there is an optimism that we are finally on the downhill side of this thing.

Given this year was an exercise in futility, it is all the more reason to be optimistic about the future. After all, when you hit rock bottom, the view can only get better from there. So in that spirit, here are my resolutions for 2021

1. STAY HEALTHY: The vaccines are here and the rate of the virus’ spread is skyrocketing. Some states are worse than others, obviously, and there appears to be a new variant that is more contagious, but hope is on the way. I have read stories of how combat soldiers who are close to the end of their tour fear the last few weeks/months the most because they are so close to surviving that hell and live to tell about it. I feel the same way about the virus, so we’ll keep hunkering down and try to stay out of the fray. Losing anyone to this thing at any time is devastating, but having to deal with that now at this stage of the game would suck beyond compare.

2. STOP BEING A NEWS JUNKIE: There was a period of time where I couldn’t get enough of the evening news programing. I was glued to the developments of the virus spread, what we were (or weren’t) doing to effectively combat it, not to mention the election campaigns. All this did was fuel my anxiety, frustration and anger to the point where I didn’t like myself. So I haven’t watched a single episode of any of that programming in over a month, and I hope to keep it that way. It is better for me to stay informed via print because it isn’t so in your face, and is something I can choose to read or skim over. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

3. WRITE NOVEL #2: We are stuck indoors with nothing to do, so if I don’t take advantage of the situation this might not ever happen. I started in earnest a few weeks back, and was surprised to discover this wasn’t going to be easy. I had to write an opening for a plot that centers around several pieces I wrote a couple of years ago. The good news is that once I started it became a habit, like I suspected it would, and and I finally have some momentum going, but the bad news is this is not coming as easily as the first one I wrote. I actually wrote two versions of the opening that I wound up deleting, but the third attempt turned out to be a charm. I haven’t revisited it in a couple of days, but that turned out to be a good thing because while I was working out an epiphany came regarding how the rest of the story could proceed, so at least I have a roadmap to follow. I couldn’t say that last week. So the hook is being set, and I just need to keep it moving forward. Of course, the will mean less time for posting in this space, but perhaps I can still manage a post or two a month.

4. MAKE FRIENDS AND FAMILY A PRIORITY: It isn’t like I’ve ignored them, but be honest. How many of us have had the opportunity to meet with our friends or relatives, only to beg off or postpone it because some other “priority” got in the way. Given most my interaction with human beings has been of the Skype/Zoom variety since this all started, I have a much better appreciation for personal contact. I’d give anything right now to gather with friends over a good meal or some drinks, and bathe in the warmth of their company. I suppose being deprived of anything makes us appreciate it more, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that good friends and a supportive family are like gold, and should not be taken for granted. I am hoping that the one positive thing I take out of this shit-storm is to make spending time with them a priority. Everything else can wait.

5. GO TO A SPORTING EVENT: I have a Red Sox partial season ticket plan, and last year was the first time in a while that I can remember where I didn’t go to see a single game. Being able to see them in person this year would mean that the pandemic has subsided to at least the level where it is safe/safer to mingle. I doubt I would go if the stadium is packed until 2022, but I would love to go to a game where perhaps they have about one-third capacity and everyone is distanced as far as seating is concerned. That would certainly be an indicator that normalcy is on the way.

6. NAVIGATE THE VACCINE – M.S. QUANDRY AND COME OUT OF IT UNSCATHED: What does that mean? Well, I get heavy duty drugs infused every six months, and get my blood filtered via plasma transfer (PT) ten times a year. My next infusion and PT is scheduled in a little over two weeks, the hospital I work at is starting the vaccination process, and there are a lot of unknowns. Specifically, if I get the meds and then the vaccine, how are they going to interact? Are the side effects going to be worse? Am I going to have to defer the MS meds for longer than I am comfortable with? Also, depending on when I’d be eligible to get the vaccine, how long will I have to go without getting the PTs? I know I will have to get two doses spaced three or four weeks apart, and my PTs are also spaced four weeks apart. The problem is that these procedures filter any medicine out of my blood stream. So how long does the vaccine need to stay in one’s body to do its work? That’s important because when all this started, I went more than two months between PTs and it was not good for the MS. My symptoms got worse and never fully improved afterwards. I know what COVID does, so the vaccinations are the lesser of two evils, but I am truly concerned about this because I can’t escape the feeling that in order to save myself from COVID, it will make the MS worse. Perhaps permanently.

7. GET OUT OF BAD HABITS: Since this all started, my alcohol and MMJ intake has escalated. I suppose this doesn’t make me different from many, but I have gotten into a pattern where the MMJ has become a mostly every night thing, and instead of having a drink maybe every couple of weeks, I’ve graduated to every weekend and some week nights, depending on my mood. So while I’m not concerned about not begin able to get off that train, it would be naive to think this is a good thing. But it has served a purpose, which is to numb myself from this shitty reality. Especially at night.

8. BECOME MYSELF AGAIN: I’ve become much more introverted and introspective during these last nine months. I’ve become angrier, less patient, and more judgmental. That isn’t me, and I’d like to think it’s a by- product of the forced isolation. A major attitude adjustment is needed, and I’m hoping that as the curtain slowly closes on this sad episode of our nation’s history, my optimism and kindness of spirit will rise from the ashes.

Happy New Year everyone! May the new year bring peace, happiness, and above all health, to you and your loved ones.

My Hair is Turning White

hair

I’ve done a number of different things since March to address the boredom and monotony of laying low while the virus raged, and one of those things concerned my appearance. When it became obvious that we were in this for the long haul, I vowed that I wouldn’t cut my hair or shave until the ordeal was over.

While I had visions of growing a beard that would have fit right in with those worn by Confederate Generals during the Civil War, I relented  after about two months because K couldn’t stand it, and even I had to admit that it looked gnarly and needed a trim. That’s what happens when one’s facial hair has the texture and feel of steel wool.

That wasn’t the case with my hair, but I ultimately had to get a trim in July because while I enjoyed the curls and the long locks, it not only had become unmanageable, but was growing faster and longer on the sides of my head compared to the top, which gave me a mad-scientist kind of look.

I got the hair trimmed a second time a few weeks ago, but am still trying to figure out a way where I can keep it long without having it look like a mullet. The beard, on the other hand, bit the dust shortly thereafter.

The truth is, I had never intended to make it permanent, and was getting annoyed with the constant trimming and nurturing it took to keep it looking reasonably good, so I made the impulsive decision to get rid of it.  Perhaps it was because K’s mom said I looked like Father Time, or maybe I rationalized by saying the election results served as a symbolic turning point in the virus saga. Regardless of the reason, I marched into the bathroom, retrieved my trusty trimmer, and hacked it off.

The experience was a little traumatic because I have not been completely clean shaven for at least ten years, and for most of my adult life I have had either a mustache or mustache and goatee. So when the deed was done and I didn’t recognize the face looking back at me in the mirror after studying it for a few minutes, I noticed four things.

The first was that the skin on my face was a soft and smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom.  The second was my face felt like it was in a caught in a cold breeze. The blanket that had covered it for eight months was gone, and it took about three days before my skin adjusted to the external air temperatures.

The third thing and best thing was that I looked ten years younger. Facial hair has a tendency to make you look older (which is why I grew a mustache my junior year in high school to prevent from getting carded), and facial hair that is mostly white, no matter how good it looks, definitely ages you. So looking like a person who was closer to fifty than in his early sixties was a definite bonus.

But the one thing that caught me completely off guard was my hair. I knew I was greying before I started the beard, but sometime within the last eight months it didn’t simply get greyer, it had become very white. The change, quite frankly, was shocking.

I suppose I hadn’t noticed it because every time I brushed my teeth, or shaved the parts of my face where the beard wasn’t growing, I never paid attention to the hair, other than the fact that it was getting unruly. Instead, my eyes always seemed to lock onto the beard. That focus changed when the white from my face disappeared, because now there was only one place where I saw white.  That was on my head, and it wasn’t subtle.

I have no idea when the color changed from salt and pepper to mostly salt, but it doesn’t matter. Whether it be the stress of the past year, genetics or a combination of both, I’m turning into my mother in that regard. That is not a bad thing because while her hair turned completely white in her early sixties, like mine seems to be doing, it was a striking look and she wore it well. Plus she had a full head of luxurious white hair up until the day she passed at the age of 92. I should be so lucky.

It will be interesting to see how long it will take for the last spec of color to disappear from my scalp. I don’t remember when Mom’s stopped coloring her hair and went with the snowy owl look, but I know I do know it was that way when she was 64, because that is how old she was when I was married and the wedding pictures don’t lie.

The day will come in the near future where the color will completely disappear. But I could care less as long as I have something covering my scalp.  You see, I have a large head and very white skin, and combining that with no hair or beard will make my head look like an albino pumpkin. Should that day come, it’s a good bet the beard will make a comeback, and maybe then I won’t care how long it grows.

Note: You may not see any posts from me the rest of 2020. I need to get started on the second novel, and can’t seem to devote time to that and the blog. I’ve been putting it off for weeks now, and am truly unmotivated. But I like the concept in my head and think it will work, but have no idea whether the words will flow or if the experience will feel like I’m swimming in caramel. Time will tell. So assuming this will be my last entry for 2020, may you all have a wonderful, peaceful and healthy holiday season.

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