Monday, January 23, 2012

What I've Learned/Who am I?

In these past two weeks I’ve learned a great deal about the body’s relationship to the emotions. And to schedules.

First: emotions.

When I came home from the first round of chemo I was pretty beat. I’m being treated with two powerful anti-cancer drugs: ifosamide and adriamycin. Side effects for the ifosamide are the worst. They include destroying the bladder – so you’re given mesna to counteract that. There are also psycho effects. One is psychosis. I asked the doctor about that and he reassured me that I would have to be older and frailer. Good. He promised vivid dreams, and they came.
The night I came home I dreamt a dream of two worlds, one of which was a cartoon version of our world. From that cartoon version of our world I could reach the world behind by paddling a canoe shaped like a shoe. That’s about all I remember of the dream now. At least all that I can articulate that I recall.

The next day I went on an emotional jag. I missed Kris when she went to work and couldn’t wait for her to come home. The kitteh came and sat on me. I cried. I drove the car and thought of Jon and I cried. I put on the gloves my dad wore and thought of him and I cried. I regretted the difficulties I had caused my parents and the physical distance between myself and my children and I cried. Kris came home and I cried.

Of course, all this crying stopped up my sinuses, which gave me a headache I couldn’t control. But I also couldn’t control my emotions. After a few days the kindly Doctor prescribed some Zoloft for the depression and ativan to relax the anxiety and help me sleep. Both are working, though I’m going to stop using them today.

So the extreme of the emotions: that’s due to the chemicals. But the emotions are real. I really do think my kids are something special, and I really do miss them terribly. I really do love my wife as deeply as I have ever loved anything in my life. And I really do regret how difficult I was as a teenager and young adult. I do regret the last several years of my relationship to my mom – she gave up and turned to the wall and waited to die.

This does put me in mind of being drunk or high. I’ve dealt with many emotional drunks, some of whom loved Jesus very deeply and just wanted a little more money to be a little more drunk.
So, how do we relate our emotions to our self?

They seem to be composed of chemicals and situation. Mostly chemicals. And the chemicals seem to be in charge of the self.

The chemicals also seem to be in charge of the body’s physicality.

The poet Delmore Schwartz called this physicality a “heavy bear.” In his poem “the heavy bear who goes with me,” he names the body “a caricature, a swollen shadow,/A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive, . . .” A body undergoing chemo therapy becomes “a stupid clown . . .”

I can no longer predict where and how I’ll need a bathroom. That’s the biggest inconvenience and/or “swollen shadow” of my former life. But I also can’t predict how much I’ll be able to eat when I’m hungry. I can’t taste water and like it. I can’t tell when I’ll fall asleep and when I’ll stay awake – unless I add some chemical to make me sleepy. I’ve also become an insomniac. And then I’m ready to nap in the middle of the afternoon.

What this has all got me thinking about is the “real me.” Which is the real me? The chemically controlled heavy bear? (Schwartz wanted to separate himself from that heavy bear.) The emotion laden weeping husband? Or is there a me that perdures inside the heavy bear and/or weeping husband?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Around the World in 80 Days

Turner’s playing “Around the World in 80 Days.” The money Todd spent to produce this film was prodigious – and silly. It’s an incredibly bad film, even as a representation of the late Empire novels of Verne. Every movie stereotype is hauled off. The British male is punctual and reserved. The English educated rajani is actually a beautiful white girl (a very young Shirley MacLaine). The little Mexican saves the day, comically – but always costs the punctilious Brit time and effort.

It’s entirely too silly, even for 1956. But I remember fondly going to a second run movie theatre in the late 50’s it must have been, to see it on a wide screen. Ruth brought the popcorn and we were all happy. I think I thought it was a great movie then.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Waiting I'm Hating

I don't mean to be a hater, but I'm sitting in my room, my home away from home, waiting for the surgeon to come and install my triple threat three spout line. Then we can get to the business of getting the first dose of chemo.

While I'm waiting I'm letting my anxiety rise. You can see it in my bp. When I left the hospital last Saturday my blood pressure was around 140/90. High, but not so far off normal. This morning, when I checked in with Dr. Beck it was 146/94. About 15 minutes later, when I got to the room it was 151/106.

I'm waiting, making myself crazy, imagining all sorts of problems.

I'm going to get two cancer drugs. One gets induced slowly, over 72 hours. The other I get in a three hour induction four times in the four days I'm here.

I sure would like to get this started so I can quit being anxious. I didn't even know I was anxious, but I clearly am.

BTW, Salina Hospital is a lot more bureaucratic than Lindsborg. Boy did they get my medical history.

Well. I've got one book to read, my laptop. and a wireless connection. I've got espn and news channels. I should be fine. But I'm waiting and I'm hating waiting.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What is Long Term?

Felix Salmon of Reuters just talked about private equity. Apparently private equity counts five years as long term. Who knew.

The List

All Hail the power of the list.

In the beginning of the week was the list. And without the list was not anything done. But with the list were all things done that were done.

And lo the list was good!

Going to the hospital tomorrow with everything on my list crossed off.

No Pants

Just watched No Pants Subway Ride, 2012 edition.
First: it isn’t sexual. This video reminds us that most underwear is strictly utilitarian. I think it was Lawrence Fehrlingetti who told us “Even the pope wears underwear, I hope.”
Second: This is the 11th No Pants Subway ride. Some of the novelty and almost all of the shock value has worn away.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Where I've Worked

A few days ago I listed all the places I've lived. In my last post I claimed to have worked for a dozen employers. In this post I'm going to try to remember everyone who's employed me.

I started as an underaged janitor in my church. The Pastor paid me directly.
Then I went to work for Ambassador Paints, delivering paint driving a 1958 Ford Galaxie.
Then I worked for a Nazi upholsterer. Seriously. He had lots of Jewish customers, whom he hated. I heard him say, many times, "Sometimes I think Hitler was right." He's dead now.
Briefly I worked for a company that serviced coin operated machinery.
During my senior year in High School I worked for a television repair shop next door to Wrigley Field. We dumped busted televisions under the L tracks.

Off to college.
During the summers I worked for my cousin in Louis K. Walter Soil Testing services.
During the year I worked on campus as, student worker in the English Department; photographer for the yearbook; editor of the campus paper.

Off to Seminary.
I worked in an early version of a big box discount department store, in the sports department. We sold guns and ammo. I was a union member, but didn't like it because I didn't have a vote for shop steward (I was only part time). That was my first seminary year. No preaching yet.
During my second and fourth years I got a bunch of work supply preaching. I didn't hold down another job.
I was an Intern in Winston-Salem, NC, at Augsburg Lutheran Church.

After seminary I served the church --
Holy Cross, Charleston Heights, SC
Trinity, Georgetown, SC
Our Savior, Memphis, TN

Then I went to graduate school at Memphis State. The first year I worked in the office of Religious Affairs and Orientation. The second year I worked in the department of Communication, Theatre Arts and Dance as the lighting assistant for the dance program.

I also supplied all over the Memphis area, just trying to make ends meet.

Then to Minnesota to continue grad school. I worked for three years with the department, editing the alumni newsletter that no longer exists. Two summers I was "Captain" of the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. It also no longer exists. Getting a thematic element here? The boat burnt to the waterline just a few years after I served.

Again, I supplemented income by doing supply preaching. When I completed all the coursework and finished preliminary exams I went to work for one of the temporary agencies and spent happy weeks out in Plymouth, MN, working in the offices of a major corporation whose name I don't remember.

The fall of 1991 I went back to Chicago, moved in with my parents to try and help my Dad in the last year of his life. After he passed I went back to temp work, working for corporations like FMC and Contemporary Greetings. The last was ready to offer me permanent work. Maybe I should have taken it.

June of 1992 I wed my beloved Kristine and we moved to Chicago together. By the fall I was back working for the church, this time
Unity Lutheran, Magnolia and Balmoral. That was good for five years.

Then, after a sad and painful separation from the church (for which the Bishop maintained I had as much responsibility as the church council), I was unemployed/self-employed for six months. Christmas of 1997 I went to work for Wikstrom's Deli (formerly Schott's). By January I went to work for the Swedish American Museum Center. I also did adverts for a couple of real estate agents and a newsletter for one more.

Then it was two years at St. Olaf -- director of Forensics and assistant Professor of Communication. Then three years in Sterling, Kansas doing the same thing. finally 8 years here at Bethany College. No director of Forensics - thankfully.

This is where I'll stay until retirement.

I Like to Fire 'Em

Much is being made about Mitt Romney's "I like to fire 'em" line. Some commentators have noted just how lame handed that line is. Others have gone on to insist that we not twist Romney's words, that he was not speaking of personal joy in firing workers at one of the companies Bain was downsizing or closing.

I agree that we shouldn't twist Romney's words and that he was, indeed, speaking of getting rid of the insurance company that wasn't serving my needs. What that demonstrates is that Romney isn't very sophisticated about the connotations of his words, but he also has no clue about how ordinary Americans buy their health insurance.

In my fifty years of work I've been employed by maybe a dozen employers. But let me focus on just the employment by the church, the inter-regnum between church and college, and employment by a series of colleges.

When I was Pastor of LCA and ELCA churches my health insurance, and my family's coverage was provided by the church. The church was self-insuring through the Board of Pensions. From 1975 to 1997 I was covered by the board of pensions. The coverage got worse and the price went higher, but if I was going to participate in the pension plan I had to participate in the insurance plan. I was told, when I asked, that this was due to government regulation. Don't know how or why, but that's what I was told. I did not have a choice to "fire" my insurance company and "hire" another.

Between 1997 and 1999 I did freelance work, worked for a deli, and finally worked for the Swedish American Museum. I was offered Cobra for health coverage when I left the church, but I could not afford it. Kris' employer picked up her health insurance. But I was uninsured because I couldn't afford it.

When I went to work for St. Olaf I was offered health insurance as part of my pay package. I knew that I needed to take it, no matter how bad the insurance was, because it was better than what I could afford otherwise.

Since moving to Kansas I've been covered through the ACCK. The coverage has been, surprisingly good, particularly since I got sick and used up my coinsurance and deductible. Once a year I get to reup and pick up any other insurance products. I can opt out of the program if I opt into another program. I can't just hot have insurance coverage. And I can't drop out and change my company in the middle of the year.

I can't fire my insurance company now because I have a pre-existing condition, and until "Obamacare" is fully enacted, I can be turned down for coverage.

What does Mitt want? He wants me to be exposed to the vagaries of the marketplace where I can now be turned down for coverage (as my friend Mark already is, as my friend Deb struggles with). He somehow believes that insurance is chump change and I can easily take my insurance dollar down the block -- let's see, my employer pays 2/3 of the premium -- and how do I make that up?

The offensive thing about Romney's fire you insurance company line isn't that he used the word "fire." It's that he has no idea how people get their health insurance or how they pay for it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Migraines Medication and Emotion

Just back from two lost days. Thursday I spent with flu like symptoms and thrashing about and trying every chair, sofa, bed in the house.

The flu triggered a migraine, the first migraine I'd had in years. The last one was when we still lived in the Opat house in the far corner of town. That one was ended with a strong shot of some sedative. But I hadn't been doing the things that lead to dehydration. This time I was severely dehydrated as well as in intense pain.

We are so fortunate in our little town to have an excellent little hospital to care for exactly these kinds of problems. We went into emergency room on Thursday evening and Dr. Loder got me started with rehydration and pain relief. We finally got the pain under control on late Friday night.

By Saturday morning I was ready to go home. The thing about my migraines is that they are triggered by smells. Even when migraine free I have to avoid the laundry detergent aisles at Target and our local grocery store. So, by Saturday morning I was at the point of saying, “Everything in this hospital smells.” (I also got home and opened the fridge and smelt a dish going moldy that Kris hadn't noticed). Everyone who works in the hospital wants to smell nice, so they wear deodorant. Everyone has to keep themselves germ free, so they use, in every room, hand sanitizer. There's soap and laundry detergent smells. I couldn't escape from the smell. Every smell was a little spike in the pain that remained.

I got home. It's pretty well smell free – or the smells are so familiar that they don't bother. Kris had put together all the stuff I'd thrashed apart and told me I hadn't done as much damage as I thought I had. Bless her for that. It was so good to have the house looking so nice.

I ended up bawling. I cried about and lamented how old and sick and vulnerable I felt. I'm still liable to start crying over minor things. I'm hugging the stuffed Krismutt I threw to the floor in my thrashing.

That leaves me wondering about the relationship between chemicals and emotions. I know that there are studies showing that there are relationships, but I'm not enough of a scholar to know what they are. I suspect that the extreme nature of today's emotions has to do with the drugs I've been taking and the illnesses I'm going thru. I'm glad to feel the feelings I've got, but I need to remember that some of them are medicine driven.

And I need to allow the lost days to be lost. I'm not going to get back either of them. Hopefully the coming chemo won't cost me too many more lost days in the first six months of 2012.

Guess I'm well on the way to meeting my deductible for 2012. Wonder what these two days in our local shop is going to cost.

This journey is taking twists and turns I'd never expected. I guess that's what life gives you – rarely a direct route from start to finish.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Oh the Places I've Gone

Thomas Michael Corrigan and I are “old friends.” We were friends at Albert G. Lane Tech High School, both graduating in 1967. We then both went to Augustana College, Rock Island (the real Augustana), along with John Greenwood and his brothers Don and Ron. All Lane Tech Graduates in the era when it meant something to go to Lane Tech. (It meant you did swim class naked and cold. In the Lane Tech pool all men were created equal.)

After we all graduated from Augustana in 1971 we went our separate ways. Tom's asked that I tell a little of my story – since he doesn't know the curving and complicated path my life took after graduation. Here's just the geography from Rock Island to Lindsborg, Kansas.

From Rock Island to Springfield, Ohio. From Springfield back for a summer in Chicago and then to Columbia, South Carolina. Thence to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Then back to Columbia. From there it was Charleston Heights, South Carolina, followed by Georgetown, South Carolina. Then it was off to Whitehaven (originally a suburb of Memphis and just down the road from Graceland, Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, TN). Then into the city of Memphis. From Memphis to Minneapolis, first just off 42nd Street in South Minneapolis, and then around 21st, just north of Lake Street. From there it was a move to Chicago, with a new wife and no children (the children were in Aurora, IL). Two different locations in Chicago – Magnolia and Balmoral and 1200 block of Chase Street. Then to South Saint Paul. Next Northfield, MN. Then Sterling, Kansas. Finally, eight years ago I got smart. In the move to Lindsborg I rented a Post Office Box so that when I moved in town my relatives in Sweden wouldn't have to update their mailing lists ever again!

Next time I'll fill in a few of the details of what I did in all those places.

Treatment Ahead!

January 3 is a day I'll not soon forget. I met today with the oncologist and I am not happy with the outcome of that meeting.

Doctor Beck advised that we take as our plan A injections of ifosfamide & adriamycin; with additional injection of mesna to avoid hemorrhagic cystitis. If you google the two main drugs you see that they are pretty strong drugs with strong side effects. Because of the side effects and the need to feed the adriamycin and mesna in gradually, I'll be hospitalized for each of the treatments, from 3 to 5 days, 4 to 6 times in the coming year.

I'm not at all happy about the potential side effects nor about the severe disruption of the spring. I realize that dying is a worse disruption, and doing this treatment gives we an excellent chance of survival. But I had hoped that the treatment would be relatively non-disruptive. In fact, in my head I saw me teaching the spring term and directing the Messiah show with no disruption to the schedule at all.

This sucks.

I am going to get through this, I am going to kick cancer's butt, but I just have to tell you here and now, this sucks and I am not at all looking forward to the treatments and losing twenty days to the treatments. I am fearful of the likely side effects – one of the ifosfamide is nuttiness, fatigue, confusion and an inability to concentrate. Just what I need! The adriamycin does nasty things if it gets into a muscle. I'm promised a catheter so that we don't get the adriamycin in a muscle or cause heart problems.

Sucks, sucks, sucks.

Maybe worse than the surgery – although I have to tell you I was pretty scared of the surgery for some weeks. I was convinced that the left leg would be terribly deformed when the surgery was done. It isn't and I'm not. In fact recovery from the surgery is going great. I'm actually able to get around without a crutch or a cane and I'm taking pain meds every 8 to 12 hours rather than every 4 hours. My next step is to reduce the pain meds to either nsaids or tylenol. I hope I can get there by next week.

So, two steps forward three steps back. January 13 I'll check into Salina Regional for the first treatment. Then it's every 4 weeks if I tolerate the treatment reasonably well, from January to June.

Did I mention that I think this sucks.

The PET scan came back clear. The blood work is looking good – even the anemia is improving. But I have to do this. I increase my odds of beating cancer if I do. I know I have to do this. But it sucks.

Monday, January 2, 2012

When Does Education End?

There's a long running ad for Keller Graduate School of Management, a division of DeVry Institute, which is a division of I.T.T., or some similar diploma mill.

I like the fact that all the students shown in this ad are non-trads. I like the fact that it isn't easy, you can do this in your pajamas.

What I object to is that it portrays graduate education as something that, when you've completed it, you're done with the whole process of scholarship. One of the lines is “here's to the 'I'll sleep when it's done. . .'” The implication is that whatever it is you're learning, there is a terminal point, a time when you're “done.”

I finished my degree work in 90, the dissertation in 96 and I'm still not done. If I only get to sleep after it's done, I'm not going to get to sleep. Learning doesn't stop. I'm counting on that to keep me young after retirement.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Wonder Why

I wonder about my motivation for many of the things I do - and I am interested in motives and motivations.

One of the big mysteries -- I really dislike the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys. I always have. I disliked the Broncos under Elway. I disliked the Cowboys when Staubach was the quarterback and I never like Landry.


Don't know. But I am glad to see the Giants emerging victorious on this last day of the regular season. But I'm rooting for the Packers to repeat so I don't want the Giants to be too good. Why the Packers? They're from our division and the Bears, while not sucking like the Vikings, didn't have the best season. Without Cutler they were pretty mediocre. The Vikings, on the other hand, just stunk. The Lions were the wild card and I could root for them to go all the way, though they don't have the talent. I am a fan of the black and blue division.

Maybe that's why I don't like the D's.

Aging and Believing

Being the ex-preacher it's difficult for me to go to worship, encounter a nice juicy Sunday morning text and not think about how I'd treat the text homeletically.

This morning we had the texts of Simeon and Anna and their encounter with baby Jesus in the temple. What a chance to talk to a group of aging baby boomers about what happens to faith as we age. I'll bet there's even some empirical data about the effects of age on belief structures, trust, and relationships. I certainly got to thinking about those things as I read through the texts for the morning.

Here are two elderly people who are not entirely conventional in their belief systems to begin with. One is waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” The other has been in the Temple praying and fasting and who knows what else since she was a young widow. Anna, it seems, may have been at the temple day and night for sixty, seventy years. These are not normally religious people who come for the holy days and the rest of the time slip in an occasional prayer or a thought about god and gods and eternal life and messiahs and what might be about to happen. These are seriously religious people – devout is the word Luke uses.

What happens to our faith as we age?

Over the years I've seen a variety of interactions between faith and aging, though I'd reduce them to two extremes (of course there's lots of middle ground too).

Hazel became adventurous as she aged – until she reached the point at which she'd lost most of her sight, all of her hearing and much of her sense of self. But up to then she was willing to trust that her life was in the hands of the divine. She came to accept the gay men around her, the church as a center for performing arts. She walked to church, no matter the weather, trusting that her way would be kept safe – or at least that the objective was worth the effort.

Ruth was the opposite. She'd lost a husband to a particularly nasty kind of cancer, and the cancer was probably a result of his work in NASA. The government denied that there was any possible connection between the radiation to which he'd been exposed and the cancer he developed. That double betrayal led Ruth, as she aged, to become more enamored of the pious platitudes. Anger will do that if you can't or won't face it.

The two extremes – new trust in new truthes and clinging to old pieties – both are possible reactions to the world as we age. We boomers (neither Hazel nor Ruth were baby boomers) have the possibility of getting this final action right and learning to trust that there is something yet to come, something yet to be revealed that may be the consolation of Israel – or the world – or we can begrudge the future for not being like the past.

Which, I wonder, will be do? Boomers are being blamed for much that's happened to the world. Could we maybe get this one right? I hope so.