Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Beer At the End of the World

Artist Karri Klawiter just designed this great cover for me. Check out the rest of her work at her DeviantArt page: http://kek19.deviantart.com/.

A BEER AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a short story about time travel and how a cold drink can take the edge off, even at the end of creation. It'll be available as an e-book in February.

(Note that the title is "A Beer at the End of the World". The first time I typed that in the above paragraph, I wrote it as "A Bear at the End of the World". Which would be a totally different story.)

(A story I. Must. Now. Write.)

And if you missed it, my short story WE KEEP THE CARS RUNNING, became available exclusively on the Kindle last week. Here's a link.

That's all the shilling I can stand for a Tuesday night. See you next time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 10

At some point in the second week, my stay in the hospital became not about the gigantic, stapled hole in my side, but the problems with my plumbing. This may sound like an improvement, but in a lot of ways it wasn’t. When I had pneumonia, I knew there were certain things I had to do to get better, and then it would all be over. When my body started basically rebelling against the medication it was being given, all we could do was change the drugs (note: non-narcotic pain killers are not as effective as narcotic pain killers) and wait for my body to work itself out.

I lost twenty pounds, and I suspect most of it was in that last week. I was on a liquid diet, sipping chicken broth and ginger ale three times a day. The thinness of my meals wasn’t really that bad, since I didn’t feel like eating anyway, but the weakness that came with it certainly contributed to what came next.

I’m sure I was edging toward clinical depression. My stomach was a mess, I didn’t have any energy, my ankles had gone all Fred Flintstone on me, and I hadn’t been able to take a shower for over a week. A feeling of wilted grossness had settled over me. I was sweating buckets half the time and freezing the other half. Trelina wasn’t able to come see me for a day or two because she and Jasmine were both sick, and I hadn’t seen Jasmine at all since just before my surgery.Two weeks in a hospital, in this day and age, seemed ludicrous to me. I felt like I was never going to get out of there. I knew, intellectually, that I needed to get out of bed more, but all the steps involved in sitting up and making sure my ass wasn’t hanging out of the hospital gown and sorting out my drainage tube and my IV and then carting them along with me wherever I went, would quickly overwhelm those thoughts. I’d wake up in the morning with the intention of doing a lap around acute care every couple of hours, and maybe manage it once or twice in a given day.

Most of all I missed my kid. I called home one night and Trelina put her on the phone for me. She said, “Hi, daddy!” and I simply broke down. I couldn't talk at all, I was crying so hard. I had to hang up and call back when I’d pulled myself together.

That was the kick in my uncovered ass I needed, though. I started getting out of bed more, even when getting out of bed sucked. While I was awake, I made sure to spend more time walking or sitting in a chair than on my back. The improvement wasn’t immediate, and I was probably pushing myself harder than was healthy, but eventually my mood improved, and my health improved with it. The sun came out and the cankles went away.

On November 17, sixteen days after I’d gone to the emergency room, I was given my walking papers. I still had a drainage tube hanging out of my chest, and a pile of instructions and prescriptions an inch thick, but the hard stuff was over.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 9

If “all” that had been wrong with me was the infection in my lungs, I probably would have gone home a couple days after my surgery and this would be the end of the story. Unfortunately, I had some side issues.

(I'm going to try to be as delicate as I can here, because this stuff isn't the kind of thing you discuss at tea parties. And frankly, it's all a little embarrassing. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I'll soldier on. Bear with me.)

I had been getting pumped full of pain meds for over a week by this point, most of them narcotics. One side effect of taking lots of narcotics is what the pilots in my Air Force days used to call “GI distress”. GI in this case stands for “gastro-intestinal”, so you can probably guess where I'm going with this (or not going, as the case may be). Folks, I didn't do a two-sie for almost a week. My stomach got hard as a rock and I didn't want to eat anything because it literally felt like there was no room left in my belly. Good time for a liquid diet, right? Somebody also brought up the idea of laxatives, but I nixed that right away. Even though I was pretty mobile only a couple of days after my surgery, getting up to go to the bathroom was still a multi-step process, involving coordinated movement of my drainage tube, my IV cart, and my unbalanced body. An urgent call to the bathroom would have ended in disaster.

I got so uncomfortable that one of my doctors finally suggested a nasogastric (NG) tube. This is a small flexible plastic tube that is inserted up a nostril and down through the esophagus and into the stomach. I think the idea was that the tube would suction some of the stuff out of my belly, relieving some of the pressure and maybe even getting things moving again.

An NG tube is not a good time. In fact, I feel pretty comfortable ranking it as one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. It hurt going in and it continued to hurt the entire time it was in. I mean, I was sort of getting used to hurt by this time, but this was persistent and not dulled by the pain meds. Talking and swallowing were possible, but the throat moving around that segmented tube hurt like the devil - and it was in for 18 hours, at which point I demanded it be removed. The doc who originally suggested it asked me to leave it in for a couple more hours so he could come take a look at it after a surgery, but I vetoed the hell out of that idea. In the end, it barely pulled anything out of my stomach anyway.

Eventually these problems worked themselves out, as these things often do. It wasn't the only post-surgery problem I had, though.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 8

I was in the hospital for almost two weeks, so I got to meet A LOT of nurses. That sounds like the beginning of a Penthouse Forums letter (“I never thought it could happen to me...”), but that's definitely not what I 'm getting at. What I want to say about the nurses at Howard County General Hospital is that 99.7% of them are amazingly helpful, patient human beings, somehow maintaining compassion for their patients no matter how whiny, belligerent, and/or needy those patients happen to be.

Unfortunately, two weeks is enough time to encounter a couple representatives of the other 0.3%, both of them in the ICU. The first one I don't even remember, but she gave Trelina a hard time early on during my stay in the hospital. The other left me moaning and squirming in pain, not responding to her call button for over an hour, and treating me like a junkie asking for a fix when she finally did respond. Lovely woman.

The rest of my nurses and techs (more than 20 cared for me over the course of my stay) were wonderful. I particularly remember the woman who helped me into the ICU bed after my surgery. She rolled up some blankets and taped them together for me so I could wedge them under my side. This allowed me to sleep sort of on my back without putting any pressure on my incision or jostling my drainage tubes. She called this wedge my buddy, so I decided in an anesthesia-induced fog that it should be named “Tommy”. I slept on Tommy for the rest of my stay.

The surgeon came back to check up on me the day after the surgery. Everything looked fine, but for some reason, he decided the higher drainage tube, the one that was practically in my armpit, should come out. I'm not sure if that was part of the plan all along or not, but he cut the stitch holding the tube in place, then had me roll over onto my uncut side and bear down like I was “having a bowel movement” (his words). At which point he just pulled the tube right out. It hurt, but that was probably just because everything hurt at that point. It was mostly just unpleasant, like I suppose anything sliding out of your body from a new and strange orifice would be.

Then he slapped what must have been five pounds of bandages and tape over my side and bid me adieu. I still had the lower drainage tube sticking out of me, but otherwise I was officially on the mend. After a day or so in the ICU, I was moved back up into a “normal” room in acute care. Now I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was sure I'd be home by the end of the week.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 7

I've had surgery before, but those were always of the “this is a useless part of you that's causing trouble and we're going to cut it out” sort. Also known as the “very low risk” sort. Obviously cutting my chest open to drain infected fluid out of my lungs was not in the same ballpark, but everyone assured me it wasn't too risky... while pointing out that I would want to make sure that my living will and... um, dead will(?) were up-to-date.

Honestly, though, I wasn't that worried about the surgery – not because I'm brave like a lion, but because I was so damn thirsty after fasting for 24 hours that “when can I have a drink” trumped “possible death” on my list of mortal concerns. The nurse assured me that I was well-hydrated thanks to the IV, but she knew and I knew that even the tastiest IV doesn't exactly wet a guy's whistle.

My anesthesiologist was the same guy who worked on Trelina when Jasmine was born. I've met him twice now and I still have no idea what his name is, and only the vaguest idea of what he looks like without his surgical mask on, but he did a great job with Trelina, so that also went a long way to setting my mind at ease.

(One interesting note: I'll bet I'm the only dude reading this who's had an epidural. That was part of my anesthesia cocktail that day.)

I was taken down to the staging area and met all the people who would be cutting me open that day. I remember, very dimly, being given the epidural (probably just because of the novelty). And then I went to sleep.

The next thing I remember, I was in the ICU. I had apparently woken up and started talking before that, but (surprise, surprise) I don't remember any of it. My nurse helped me scoot from the gurney into my ICU bed. My left side was a solid block of pain. I didn't even want to look at it or know what had happened there. I just knew it hurt and somebody needed to get me some drugs STAT.

Here's what happened: The surgeon cut a long, swooping incision under my left shoulder blade and around my side to get into my chest. Then, after cleaning up the abscess on my lung and clearing out as much of the infected fluid as he could, he cut two more holes in my side – one above the incision and one below – and threaded drainage tubes the width of cigars into them and between my ribs. Then he stapled the incision closed and sent me to the ICU, tubes and all.

Next came the fun part: recovery.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goals for 2012

I'm a big fan of New Year's resolutions - not so much because I'm on a quest for constant self-improvement as I just really like to make lists. In fact, the satisfaction of crossing a task off of a list is probably the only reason I'm not living in a cardboard box.

So, without further blah-blah-blah, here's my list of goals for 2012.

1. Get my body fat down to 10%.

I didn't want to tie myself down to one activity (mountain climbing, swimming, martial arts, whatever) with my fitness goal this year, so I decided to focus on the results rather than the process for getting there. I've had weight loss goals in the past, but after accidentally reaching my goal weight of 185 after a stretch in the hospital last year, I realized that this weight (which is supposedly perfect for my height and build) was not a good look for me. Part of that, though, is that a lot of what I lost was muscle mass. So we're focusing on body fat this year. I'll post my current percentages later.

2. Finish writing one novel and 12 short stories

2011 was a pretty fallow writing year for me until the last couple of months. This year I'm AT LEAST going to finish the current novel (which is more than half done already) and write 12 short stories besides.

3. Level up at the day job.

I've never been a career-minded guy - probably thanks to my midwestern upbringing, where I was surrounded by adults for whom a job was just something you had so you could pay for electricity and beer. This year, though, I'm going to focus on getting promoted and taking on some new work-related responsibilities and, hopefully, skills. I've got a very specific promotion in mind, but I'm going to keep it to myself because it would probably be meaningless to anybody who doesn't work at my company.

4. Finish my bachelor's degree.

Considering how many degrees there are between most of my friends and co-workers, it's embarrassing that I haven't even finished my first bachelor's yet. I've got six more classes and a couple of CLEPs to go, and I'm done. I'd hoped to finish it last year, but work was so crazy that there was never any time. I'll make the time this year.

5. Get into a bigger house

This is the most important goal of 2012, the one that all the others are going to have to make way for, if necessary. With another baby on the way in July, there is just no way that this tiny, tiny townhouse we've been in for the last 12 years is going to be able to contain all the Andersons that are going to be living in it. We've been talking about moving out for years, but this is the year that we have to do it. That's going to mean fixing the things that need to be fixed and prettying it up as much as possible, which is going to take some time.

That's a lot of stuff to pack into one year. I'd better get to work.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

How Phoenix Tried to Kill Me - Part 6

Remember how I mentioned that cup that one of the nurses kinda-sorta implied that I might want to spit into, and how I blew her off? After day two of my confinement in the negative pressure room, I asked somebody when I would be free to have other people visit. Trelina was allowed in (I guess they figured if she hadn't caught my cooties yet, she wasn't likely to), but I was thinking in particular of Jasmine. I hadn't seen her in three or four days at that point, and that's just about my limit. The DTs get really ugly from that point on.

So this nurse-or-doctor (they were all sort of blurring together) informed me that getting out of the room depended on them finding out what was in my lungs. And their ability to do that was hanging entirely on me giving them four phlegm samples. What? Nobody told you that?

I had only given them one so far. I had to produce three more and wait for the results before I could get out of that room, and I was already going stir crazy. I learned that day that it is possible for a man to hone his will into the singular goal of producing and expelling phlegm, even when it feels like a Giger Alien is trying to burst out of his chest the entire time. I was focused like a freakin' laser, man. They'd bring me a cup, and I'd be calling (okay, moaning) (okay, whining) for another one before they even left the room.

It was another day and a half before the results came back, saying that I would not kill anybody with my lung fungus.

(Trelina and I just figured the timeline for all this out before I sat down to write this, and I cannot believe that it wasn't longer. It felt like I was stuck in that negative pressure room for more than a week. In reality it was only three or four days.)

So I got to see my kid again. Trelina's sister (who had come up to stay with her and help until I was out of the hospital) brought Jasmine to the room, and she ran around and explored and didn't destroy too much of the machinery keeping daddy alive. I still couldn't get out of bed or interact with her much, but at least I got to see her.

Now the doctors had identified all the invaders in my lungs and knew what they were up against... but they were also coming to realize that the drugs alone weren't going to do the trick. My right lung had cleared up by this point, but after five days of getting firebombed with antibiotics and anti-fungals, my left lung was still teeming with infection. Finally, somebody made the call to send me to the sawbones. It was going to take surgery to get all the crap out of my chest.