Advice from Tom … Get it Checked

Steve invited me on the show to talk a bit about health. I don’t really know anything about health. But my wife owns a stethoscope and I found a mask under the bathroom sink. Let’s get started. Tom. On Health.

Steve and I discovered each other, recently, through a mutual blogger. As these things go, he and I were impressed with each other’s content, each other’s body of work. I dug into his stuff about the same time as he dug into mine. I admire his writing style. Descriptive, informative, never dry. I love the way he subtly discovers his own path back to balance when he feels off course. I can relate to that. A good example was in November, when recent posts of his own prompted him to get back to the upside of down things in “Sunshine and Rainbows.” No matter what life throws at us, we have a choice on how we react. Life threw MS at Steve, but it never beat him down. Not once. In fact, just two days ago he plowed the snow. Really? Steve, we do have limits. Someday you’ll learn yours. Maybe. 😁

Last week, out of the blue, Steve asked if I’d be interested in doing a guest blog for his site. I love to write, and have always sought balance in the number of posts I do in a week on my own site, so I said “sure!” Of course, Steve founded his site as a means to share his journey with MS with “candor, humor, and brutal honesty,” so I said “you know I don’t have MS, right?”

In fact, I have had only two light brushes with the world of MS. A few years ago, when I signed up to Facebook, I reconnected with all my old high school/church group friends. One of them, a little sister to a close pal, whom I helped recruit into the group, had been diagnosed some years earlier. On Facebook, she would tell peripheral stories of days with it – of transfusions and immobility – but I never knew the depth of her ordeal. I only know it never seemed to break her kind and giving spirit.

The only other encounter I’ve had with MS was when President Bartlett revealed his struggle with it to the nation. I was aghast. He was the only president I ever really liked.

Steve said, “of course, I know that. Doesn’t matter, Tom. Be Tom. Do what you do.

“But keep it to the matter of health, if you can, in some way. That is the central theme.”

That created a challenge for me. As I’ve stated recently on my own site, I’ve visited the doctor twice (for checkups) in the last decade. And then back in high school, 30 years ago. Except for the occasional walk-in clinic visit to make sure rib or back pain wasn’t too serious, or to get something prescription-strength for a bad cold, I just don’t have any health-related experiences of my own. That’s a blessing, I realize, so not a complaint. Nonetheless I have opinions. I’m bigly in favor universal healthcare, the kind we see in what I call the “better countries” around the world. I also want to believe in the science of longevity, the likes of which Ray Kurzweil speaks about. I want to live forever, as impossible as that will be.

If invited back for subsequent visits maybe I’ll talk about those things.

But it hit me yesterday, while in the shower (don’t all breakthroughs come from there?), that I had a health-related story from last year, and maybe a lesson to teach. It isn’t about me. It’s about a friend. A co-worker. We lost him in 2017.

He didn’t die. I should point that out right away. But we haven’t seen him since the week after Memorial Day. And it was for the smallest of reasons. Well, it started small, but it damn near killed him, and it certainly changed him. We fear forever.

I’m in appliance sales, and this man was our delivery chief. Just as amicable a guy as you could imagine. And incredibly competent. I don’t believe he missed a day of work in 7 years. Strong, both physically and emotionally. Smart. Funny as hell.

The last day I saw him was the second day of a toothache. Not a normal toothache, but the kind of toothache that swells one entire side of your face. I never saw a toothache do that. For the second day in a row I warned him that he had to get that tooth looked at, or it could be really, really bad. He worked through.

The next day was my day off. The others at my workplace said he showed up, more swollen than the day before, and was sent home. “See a doctor, or don’t come back,” the boss told him. He saw a doctor. The doctor told him he’d never seen a tooth condition, swelling, or infection that bad. They gave him medicine, told him not to return to work right away, and wanted to see him again after the weekend.

Over the weekend, he nearly died.

Someone found him in his living room, looking like he’d already passed. They broke in through a bathroom window to get to him, because he hadn’t answered his calls. His face was so swollen he was unrecognizable.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the doctors induced coma and put him through 6 surgeries to go after the infection. He spent weeks in the hospital. The last I heard they were still waiting for the infection to go down enough to go after the tooth, and that was a further few weeks after his release.

I’ve tried to call him. We’ve spoken to his mother, whom we all know at work. She tells us that she passes along our thoughts and prayers to him, but no, he doesn’t want to see anybody right now. We ask that he stops by sometime, to see us. She says that he says he will. Sometime.

I have mutual friends who have run into him, about town, so I know he gets out. I know he’s recovered (or is recovering) physically. They all tell me the same thing: “he’s not the same person we knew.”

He doesn’t want to interact. To talk. To quip jokes as he does. As he did. His mother says that he suffers from a form of PTSD from the experience. Depression. Anxiety. Nightmares and stuff. It broke him.

I did some reading up on PTSD after that and learned that 80% of all sufferers are only afflicted for a short time. I’m hoping this is one of those 8 out of 10 situations. I hope my friend returns someday.

I told you earlier that I’ve only seen a doctor twice in ten years. The last time was last week. I have a clean bill of health, so far, but there are still blood tests to run, and that colon thing to do this summer when I turn 50. Who knows. I may yet be a man of perfect health. But this thing, with my friend, was a reminder, and I’ve learned a lesson.

He’s a good dozen years younger than me. He never had to go to doctors. He was smiling and happy and ready for whatever life threw his way. And then a bad tooth upended his world.

It can happen in an instant, we all know that. But when it’s happening over time, when there is something that we can do about it, our body will tell us. His body told him about his pain for months, and he ignored it. My body said nothing for decades so I’ve ignored it. But I will ignore it no more. Annual checkups. Taking heed of the pains. Exercise. Cutting back on the red meat. Less beer.

I’ll do most of those. 😉

But I beseech you, out there, do the same. Don’t let it go. Get it checked. The smallest thing can be the biggest thing. Don’t be afraid to know. The worst thing that can happen is you can find out you have something. If you do, you’ll find a way to deal with it. Steve has. He found out he had something. He’s learned to live with it. Learn from his example.

Our lives may change. Our lives will change as we get older. Guaranteed. But when we know what ails us we can have more control over that change. If we don’t, that change can upend us. Sometimes, when we are upended, we never come back.

So, that’s my health-related story. I want to thank Steve for letting me tell it. For inviting me on. I hope I’ve entertained a tad, educated a bit, and didn’t make a fool of Tom. I hope to be invited back.

Honestly, I haven’t even attacked the pharmaceutical companies yet. 😎

Think Getting Published is Easy?


I’ve written a novel. The main character has MS (big surprise), but that’s only a subplot to the story, which is about self-discovery, perseverance, family, friendship, love and redemption.

I never intended to be an author, and how I came to write this is a long story in itself, but I enjoyed the process, had the assistance of an editor along the way, and I think the end product is pretty good. Most of the people who have read it certainly think so. Who knows? Maybe this can become a second career if working regular hours in an office  becomes impossible. A guy can dream, can’t he?

But I have to get one little detail out of the way, which is getting the damn thing published, and I don’t mean self-publishing. When I finally got the manuscript finished after so many edits and revisions I lost count (at least twenty of them), I figured the hard part was over. Little did I know.

I assumed all that needed to be done was to send the manuscript out to hundreds of publishers, who would see how brilliantly I write, and fall all over themselves trying to sign me. My literary agent, who has been in the business forever and whom I trust, quickly disabused me of that idea. In today’s competitive environment, you need more than talent. You need a social media presence.

Oh shit!

Just hearing the term “social media” makes me cringe, primarily because I never believed in it, didn’t have time for it, and didn’t want to be bothered with it. E-mail and texting was more than enough for me. Unfortunately, social media numbers are necessary because the assumption is you have a built-in network to market the book to. So whether I liked it or not, I had to jump on the bandwagon. And until a few days ago, I thought I did.

The laundry list of things I needed to accomplish when this odious chore was first presented made my sphincter pucker. I needed to max out the number of friends allowed on Facebook, which is 5,000. At the time I had less than 100. This took me the better part of three months to accomplish.

But that wasn’t enough. More was required, the list of options long, and starting a blog was the least objectionable of the choices. That, dear followers, is how this blog got started. Not that I have any regrets. I enjoy doing this and have met some fun and interesting people along the way.

I also needed at least five endorsements from published authors, which took as long as it did to achieve 5,000 friends.

Those three accomplishments got me to the point where I could sit down with my agent and hopefully move forward on the publishing front. That meeting occurred on Wednesday, and the good news is that we are going to actually start the process. YAY! 

The not so good news is getting started means I also have to create a web site (ka-ching!), and get my Linkedin presence more robust than Facebook. By the way, Linkedin does not have a follower limit, so I presume I’m looking at having to get in the 10,000 range. I currently have 103. And while all that is going on, I need to get started with Instagram.

In addition to this, a marketing plan that can be sent to publishers along with the manuscript needs to be developed, which demonstrates how wonderfully connected I am, shows all the writing groups I am affiliated with, and lists more endorsements than I currently have. That presumably will occur once the web-site, Linkedin and Instagram are in full gear, along with Facebook. Getting the blog numbers up would also be helpful.

I walked out of that meeting with mixed feelings. I was happy that we are going to actually move forward with this, but all the other stuff? It’s completely foreign to me. I think I will become enthusiastic and have fun once I get into it, but right now it feels like I’m sitting in the dentist’s office waiting for a root canal.

I know my agent is right, because once it does (hopefully) get published, the foundation to market, sell and get the word out will be in place, and the news hopefully spreads like a virus.

Still, all of this for a freaking book? If I’m going to go invest all this time, money and aggravation to get the platform up and going, it sure as hell means I’m going to have to write more stories. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Wish me luck.