50 Years Ago Today

Shortly after Kennedy died, people begin saying “We will always remember where we were when we heard the president was dead.” I suppose my grandparents generation the “where was I when it happened” event was Pearl Harbor. For my parents and I it was JFK assassination or perhaps for my generation that was either RFK, MLK or the moon landing that classified as the “where were you” event. We have to suppose that 9/11 is the latest in a series of these life-changing historical moments.

I was in the third grade in James E Robert School IPS #97. Every year the PTA had a fundraiser cookie sale where the kids would sell cookies to raise money for the PTA that then purchased equipment needed by the school. Most of it was wheelchairs. After each annual cookie sale the PTA would throw away “Thank You Party” for all the students. My mom was the PTA room mother for the third grade. My teacher was the much beloved Clara Rose Holmes. Someone came into the room and talk to one of the other adults either my mom or the teacher and it was obvious they were pretty upset about something. There were probably other parents there is room mothers for the other classrooms that day. We didn’t have a TV set in any of the rooms but we had a radio and someone turned it on. The adults were all intensely listening to the news reports.

At one point the kids were told that the president “got shot in Dallas”. I thought he had been given an injection of some kind. I couldn’t figure out why he had to go all the way to Dallas Texas just to get an inoculation. “Don’t they have doctors in Washington DC that could have given him a shot?” At some point someone finally explained to me he was shot with a gun and eventually confirmation came through that he really was dead.

Mom had brought me up to be a political junkie. We watched The Today Show every morning religiously. It was a practice she continued to her final days. She was watching The Today Show on 9/11 and woke me up shortly after the first plane hit. I was watching in time to see the second one hit live. Anyway back to ’63… We were lifelong Democrats and Catholic as well so Kennedy’s election was a big deal in our house. She had made sure even at age 6 or so that I appreciated the significance of a Catholic president. I remember the stern look on her face watching The Today Show during the Cuban missile crisis. I distinctly remember asking “Mommy what is a blockade?” So although I was taking lots of cues from her reaction to the days events, I’d like to think of myself as being a reasonably politically savvy little eight-year-old who knew that this was a very big deal.

Being big fans of the Kennedy family and people who appreciate good comedy, we had a copy of the best-selling comedy album “The First Family” by comedian Vaughn Meader in which a comedy troupe put on sketches with spot on impersonations of the Kennedy family. My favorite little clip from the album was an argument over toys used in the Kennedy bathtub. They included an entire flotilla of battleships, submarines, cruisers, and a rubber duck belonging to the president. Another favorite clip simply said “Go to the polls and vote. Vote for the Kennedy of your choice but to vote!”

Rather than ride the bus home that day, mom drove me home. I remember as we got in the car I said to her “I guess we can go home and throw away the First Family Album. Nobody will ever want to laugh about the president again.”

Looking back on those sketches 50 years later I guess I can laugh a little bit and I’m not alone. A quick search of Amazon.com shows that last year they released a 50th anniversary edition of the album. I actually bought it on CD a few years ago from Amazon along with some other vintage comedy items like Spike Jones and Alan Sherman.

Being a huge fan of the American space program also may be an even bigger fan of Kennedy and his pledge to get us to the moon. It always sort of pissed me off that the plaques on the lunar modules at the name Richard Nixon on them. All of the things I would’ve liked Kennedy to live to do, my biggest sorrow is that he did not live to see the moon landing pledge fulfilled.

I watched TV continuously with my mom over the next several days. I saw Oswald shot live on TV. I saw the famous salute by John John. I watched it all. I did think it was a little bit arrogant that the torch they let at his gravesite was called “Eternal Flame”. Both the scientist in the theologian in me take the word “eternal” quite literally. The sci-fi fan in me hopes that someday we colonize other worlds. If that dream comes true it will be because Kennedy put us on the first step of that journey. That will be his eternal legacy. Not some propane torch buried in the ground.

4 Days in the Hospital Without Wi-Fi

As many of you know I spent four days this week at St. Vincent Hospital with an extremely nasty urinary infection. I knew the mild one every six or eight months. Usually I just did a little stinging sensation and I know that one is coming on. Dad takes a sample up to my urologist office. He writes me a prescription. And everything goes okay.

(Spoiler alert: there may be some TMI too much information contained in the rest of this blog entry.)

This one snuck up on me very hard and very fast. I did feel a pretty nasty sting when I went shortly after dinner Monday night. I was feeling worse and worse throughout the evening. I went to bed about 10 PM and took some Tylenol just because I wasn’t feeling too good. It didn’t take long to realize I was getting very nasty chills. I ended up coming up with multiple extra blankets and still shaking very bad. When we took my temperature it was a whopping 103.6. I don’t ever recall having a temperature that high.

I probably should’ve gone to the hospital that night but I was feeling so awful and it was just so comfy all snuggled up in all those blankets. I just didn’t feel like moving at all.

The Tylenol brought the fever down a little bit but it was still pretty high. At 2 AM I took another dose and it eventually came down.

The next morning it was at about 100 even. My caregiver Rick showed up at 10 AM like always. I decided to go ahead and get dressed and have dad take me to the ER. For some reason I was having difficulty swallowing. I had really nasty nausea and dry heaves. I knew that even if I got an antibiotic it was laundry hard to swallow and I needed to drink lots of fluids at this point I just couldn’t see that happening the way I felt. I was definitely going to need IV fluids and probably IV antibiotic. I was a little bit embarrassed that I had not gone to the hospital the night before.

Once I was up and dressed I had Rick back my laptop into my wheelchair bag. Dad packed up my CPAP breathing machine and we found my special nurse call button that the folks at St. Vincent made me about 30 years ago. It’s just a little microswitch like I use on my remotes and stuff but it’s got a plug on it that fits their receptacle. They build it for me when I couldn’t use the ones that they had. They just told me to take it with me bring it back anytime I need it. That’s what I’ve been doing for decades.

I got on my computer and posted a quick message to Facebook and some email to friends who either don’t have Facebook or don’t read it very often. I plan online browser game called Travian. I sent them an in-game message telling them I was going to be off-line. I took a quick look at my bedroom DVR and canceled some programs that were scheduled and deleted some stuff that I could get on demand later.

We got to the hospital about noon and they took me right in. I took a urine specimen with me. We keep a supply of specimen jars here. They didn’t want to take it but I told them I didn’t think I could give them a fresher sample. It’d take a lot of effort just felt a little bottle that morning.

They wanted to start an IV on me but it’s very difficult to find a decent vein. They finally got a little ultrasound machine and found one in my upper right arm. They drew some blood from that and then hooked up and IV. At first they said they might just keep me overnight in an observation room but based on the idea that I was having other issues like appetite and swallowing etc. they decided they should put me in a regular medical ward. I got to my room about 6 PM.

I still felt really lousy but I slept reasonably well all things considered.

My urologist showed up early Wednesday morning and said he wanted to do an ultrasound of my kidneys and bladder. He wondered if perhaps I had some stones that were aggravating this infection. We were both concerned that this one was way worse than anything I had ever experienced.

I was also visited by an internal medicine doctor. My regular primary care physician is an interest but he doesn’t do hospital visits anymore. They’ve sort of change their model where they have doctors who do nothing but hospital and doctors who do nothing but office. You can’t get one that does both anymore which kind of disappoints me because I like to have someone managing my overall care like an internist who actually knows my history.

Anyway the interest was concerned that there might be something else besides urinary problems that had made me so sick. He wanted to do a CAT scan of my abdomen since I told them I have a history of diverticulitis and of course in 2006 my intestine actually ruptured and I had to have a temporary colostomy. I was similarly worried that it might be something intestinal because I was so sick. On the other hand I was not having any intestinal pain whatsoever. I was very constipated. My “normal” is perhaps every two days sometimes and it was pushing 3 or 4 since I had had a movement. (I warned you this was going to be TMI… It gets worse).

Of course when you have a CAT scan they make you drink a bunch of liquid. I did have a tiny bit of an appetite by now. I had eaten some scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. The stuff they made me drink was not as bad as some that I have had. But I had to drink three glasses of it and I only managed to get 2 of them down. At least with a good IV line I would not have any problems with the dye that they have to inject. Whenever I have a CAT scan, that is always a big hassle.

The ultrasound on my kidneys in the CAT scan procedures went relatively easily. I did end up with a fever of about 100 which was making me feel pretty lousy. Normally I have to take liquid Tylenol because I can’t swallow the caplets. But Tuesday night I was so sick with dry heaves that just the thought of taking the syrupy cherry liquid made me gag. I asked them if there was an IV Tylenol or aspirin they could give me. Their only alternative was a suppository 🙁 I was feeling bad enough that I agreed to one. Later on in this ordeal when I was eating something and swallowing better they did get me some liquid Tylenol.

Of course when you’re in the hospital one of the first questions they always ask you is “Are you allergic to anything?” For many years I always said no even though there are couple of antibiotics that I don’t tolerate very well. Of course the one time I said “no” they tried to give me one of those and when I said I didn’t want it they said “I thought you said you weren’t allergic to anything!” So now when they asked me that question I always say “I’m not allergic but there are a couple of antibiotics I don’t tolerate very well. Cipro is me really bad nausea and Keflex gives me really bad diarrhea.” Despite my dislike of Cipro, they talked me into giving it to me IV. I can usually tolerate it for about three days. After that it feels like I’ve got toxic waste flowing through my veins. Not a fun feeling when all your fighting is a bladder infection. Eventually I did talk them into using something different once the urine culture came back and they knew exactly what bacteria I was growing. My usual antibiotic of choice is something called Levaquin and I know for a fact that I have had it by IV at St. Vincent before. But for some reason they didn’t have IV Levaquin this time. Among my normal medications is a nasal spray for my sinuses. I was using Flonase but I recently switched to a different spray is a combination of Flonase which is a nasal steroid and something else which is an antihistamine. They didn’t have the new nasal spray so I went back to Flonase for a few days.

One other bit of medication issue I had… The first time the nurse went to give me meds she started naming things I had never heard of. When I asked her what it all was she said that one of them was stool softener for my constipation. I had already discussed that with the doctor and I was cool with that. Another was a kind of diuretic that was either Lasix or something similar to Lasix. That was okay. I knew I needed to get that fluid passing through me. I was a little surprised that’s what they were giving me because it is notoriously bad on your potassium levels and they had already discovered my potassium was low and they were giving me IV potassium. My previous encounters with IV potassium burned terribly. However this time it was okay because they were giving it to me very slowly mixed in with a bunch of other fluid. Anyway back to the mystery meds… One of them was a blood thinner because they were worried I was going to get blood clots lying in bed. I explained to them that I have feeling everywhere. I know when I’m uncomfortable. I have them reposition me. I’ve never had problems with bedsores. And that I wear a heavy back brace that likes to poke me in various places. While I wasn’t wearing the brace in bed, I could just imagine once I was ready to go home and put that brace on I would end up with bruises everywhere. They said it was okay if I refused to take it.

I had a long talk with the internist the next day. I told him I didn’t like them prescribing me medications that we had not previously. “That is not cool at all!” I told him. He never actually apologized but he agreed that they should have discussed those other meds with me. Other than that little glitch I really liked the doctors that I had. Also all the nurses were great. I had no complaints about any of them. I also had a chance to be cared for by some student nurses from Marion University. They all did a really good job. I had fun chatting with them. Of course they get all of the lousy jobs like feeding me breakfast and giving me a bath but it gave us time to talk. There seem to be a lot more male nurses these days. 20 or 30 years ago when I was in the hospital it seemed unusual to see even one. This is that they were all over the place in two out of the five students that worked on me were men.

After resting up from all that I decided to dig out the laptop and check out the Wi-Fi service. I had used St. Vincent Wi-Fi in the past. I don’t think I had ever used it on my old laptop. I did use dial-up on the old laptop several times before Wi-Fi was so popular. But I had previously used it on my iPod touch when my mom was in the hospital. In fact I bought my first iPod touch when she was diagnosed with cancer sort of because I knew I might be spending some hours in St. Vincent waiting rooms with nothing to do.

I didn’t have any problems identifying “STV-GUEST” as the proper Wi-Fi signal to connect to. When I told it to connect there was a pop up window that asked me to accept the terms. I didn’t bother to read it but it was a little bit suspicious because it didn’t say anything about St. Vincent. I had seen such a pop up before that did identify it as a St. Vincent user agreement.

Anyway when it finally did connect, it said that the connection was “limited”. I didn’t know what that meant. Apparently “limited” means “utterly useless”. I think around with all the troubleshooters and properties and everything else I can think of and determined that it was connecting me to the network but not giving the Internet access. For some reason it would not assigned me an IP address.

I told the nurse about it and she sent in someone who was the secretary for that floor. She was apparently their “go-to-gal” for all things computer. In the end she really didn’t know much about it. It turns out anytime she had ever tried to connect it had worked so she didn’t have any strategy for fixing the problem. She tried disconnecting and reconnecting several times to no avail. We rebooted a few times with no luck.

I tried to convince her to call someone in the IT department but she insisted that they would be highly unlikely to work on a patient computer. She says I have a backlog of maintenance tasks on the hospital’s own computers. There’s a PC in virtually every room from the nurses to do all of the record-keeping. They got a little laser barcode scanner that is Bluetooth connected to their PCs. Every time they give you a pill or an IV bag they have to scan the barcode on my wrist tag and scan the barcode on the medication. It looks like a pretty cool system for keeping track of everything.

Wednesday night I came up with a brainstorm so when I called Dad Thursday morning I had him bring me some stuff. I have a little Wi-Fi dongle that looks like a USB flash drive. I bought it from the Wi-Fi on my Raspberry Pi tiny computer. I had him bring me the Wi-Fi gadget and the driver disk. When he arrived Thursday morning I disabled the built in Wi-Fi on the laptop, installed the other Wi-Fi gadget and it behaved exactly like the built-in Wi-Fi.

Dad had his Barnes & Noble Color Nook book reader with him. We tried connecting to the Wi-Fi using his tablet and it worked perfectly 🙁 That ment it was something I was doing wrong. Or perhaps their system just wasn’t compatible with Windows 8.1. We never did figure it out. I showed dad how to log into my Facebook account to post a quick update message for friends and family.

I also installed a special chip in his Nook that sort of turns it into a full-blown Android tablet. We switched it over to Android mode and downloaded a copy of my favorite remote control program called TeamViewer. We used that program to remotely access my desktop at home. Then we can post an email using Outlook on my PC. I can use webmail on my Road Runner email account but it does not store any of my email addresses. So we got a quick message out that way.

One of the things that bothered me at this point was the status of my DVR. If I had had good Internet access I could’ve used a Bright House remote access webpage to get to my DVR and try to reschedule some shows. Unfortunately that system isn’t quite as useful as I wish it was. It will let you schedule a recording. It will let you see what you have scheduled to record. It will let you cancel a scheduled recording. What it will not do is it will not show you what you already have recorded nor will it tell you how full your DVR currently is. That makes it marginally useful in my opinion. I didn’t bother to have dad try to log into that mess. I would just have to hope that any movies I had scheduled would be shown again later and that any regular TV shows I could catch on demand more from “other sources” wink wink.

I normally eat two meals a day and a snack before bedtime. That’s usually lunch and dinner. But since I was waking up early and eating breakfast and lunch I didn’t really feel much like dinner. One thing that was cramping my style, they had me only cardiac diet. I was going to argue with them that I really didn’t have any cardiac diet restrictions but they explained to me that it was really a no salt diet (low-sodium) because they wanted to keep the fluids running through me and salt makes you retain fluid. So I really couldn’t argue with that.

Early on Wednesday the urologist had said he was probably going to put a catheter in me. The whole reason I get these infections is because my bladder doesn’t completely drain. However when I told the internist and the nurses have difficulty usually is to hit one of those things in me, they all decided they wanted the urologist to do it. He would not be back until Thursday morning. So although I should probably had the catheter on Wednesday it didn’t happen until Thursday. The urologist sent over his nurse to do it. It actually went better than some such procedures I’ve had although none of them are any fun.

On Thursday morning the urologist came in early and told me that the ultrasound and CAT scan showed nothing extraordinary on my kidneys or bladder. He said that he had already known I have some small cysts of fluid on my kidneys that they were nothing to worry about. He knew about them but I don’t ever recall hearing about them. Anyway I asked him what the CAT scan had to say about my intestines. “I don’t really know… I was more interested in your urinary system.” Viva specialization! The internist was very late getting in that day. I was kind of anxious to hear about the CAT scan. When he finally did show up he said everything looked normal.

Okay here is a double triple TMI alert…

I mentioned that I was constipated so they finally started giving me some stool softener’s. It took two days worth of them but finally early Thursday, they kicked in and I filled a couple of bedpans with some really nasty stuff. I did start getting some cramps after I was cleaned out but having heard that the CAT scan on the intestines was okay I didn’t worry about it too much. The pain went away pretty quickly.

When I talked to the internist late Thursday I asked him “What is our goal here for getting me home?” My white cell count had been something like 37,000 when I came in. They had it down to 22,000 and normal is 11,000. I asked him does it have to be normal? Anyway after a small conversation he concluded there was a good chance I could go home Friday that he needed more input from the urologist.

One other visitor I had on Thursday was a woman from the chaplain’s office. I had thought about calling them. I told them when I went in that I was Catholic and wanted to receive communion but nobody had showed up. When she stopped by for a visit I told her that no one had been by. She looked at her paperwork and she did have me down as Catholic. She promised someone would be in and they did show up Friday morning for communion. That was nice.

Also my friend Rich stopped by Thursday night for a quick visit on his way home from work. I told him the whole saga about the Wi-Fi problems. We also got caught up talking about our favorite TV shows such as The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy. He was the only visitor I had other than dad but that was okay.

Thursday night was the Colts game versus the Titans. Fortunately St. Vincent has a great selection of cable TV channels including your usual basic cable ESPN, ESPN2 2, all of the news channels including MSNBC, and all the science and discovery and history channels. Fortunately when the Colts play on NFL network may always allow a local station to broadcast the game it was on WTHR. I was pretty wiped out and I dozed off somewhere late in the second quarter and woke up during the opening drive of the third quarter. Naturally I was very disappointed at the way the whole first half went. I tried not to scream too loud when Luck ran in that touchdown from about 12 yards out to give us the lead. I was really worried when we were only up by 2 field goals because I knew if Tennessee ever got their act together again, they might march right in with another touchdown. Fortunately we ended up leading by 10 and I got a little bit of a relief. Then Tennessee marched in and scored. The onside kick was no good and we ended up winning. I classified as one of those apologetic “a win is a win” kind of games. At least they didn’t slaughter us like what happened the week before.

I slept reasonably good Thursday night. I was disappointed Friday morning when the urologist did not come in like he usually does. That did not look good for my prospects of coming on Friday. However the nurses all had the word that I was a probable discharge. I’m guessing it was about 10 AM that the internist finally showed up. He had talked to the urologist who apparently had been on the floor or had checked in at the nurses station or something but had not visited with me. Anyway he had signed off on the discharge so the internist said that I was good to go. He would write up my orders.

In addition to things like removing my IV and all that stuff, we needed to make some changes to the catheter system. I had about 6 feet of tubing and a huge bag hanging on the side of the bed. They switched that to a shorter tube and a leg bag. Dad got me dressed to go. As I suspected it had experienced previously after being on IV fluid for a long time, my back brace didn’t fit worth a damn. We put it on me as best we could. Fortunately they had a Hoyer patient lifter gadget to lift me out of bed and into the wheelchair. Once I was sitting up I could tell for sure that the brace was a mess and that my arms were extremely stiff. I knew it was going to be at least a day and probably two until I would be able to function normally. There was no way I was going to be able to drive my wheelchair.

I did get a chance to say goodbye to some of the nursing students before I left. They were all really cool people. Also the transport people who took me back and forth for various tests were all pretty cool. Every time they were about to go over a bump in the floor such as getting on and off of the elevators they would warn you. I thought that was really special. I told them I wasn’t in any pain and it didn’t really matter that I could see that if I was in pain, every bump would’ve been a big deal and it was nice that they would always warn patient. Dad had been bringing little three wheel go-go scooter that we had bought for my mom. It’s a very long way from the parking to my room and he really liked having it. Once I was up in the chair, dad got in the go-go and went to get the car. They sent someone from transportation to push me downstairs in my wheelchair. In a cool bit of bookend irony, the guy who had pushed me from the ER to my room on the first night was the same guy who pushed me from the room down to the lobby.

We stopped by the drugstore to turn in my prescription for some liquid antibiotic. We told them we would pick it up in a couple of hours. They just called to say they didn’t have it and would not be able to get it until tomorrow morning. Dad just drove back over there to pick up the prescription and try to take it to a different drugstore. I did not yet have my IV antibiotic today or I would’ve waited until tomorrow morning but I don’t want to wait a full day without any more medicine going in me.

It’s a little bit strained sitting here in front of the computer not being able to drive my wheelchair or get to the phone in case of an emergency. Dad asked if I was going to be okay with him running this errand. I told him I was at the computer and if he didn’t show up in a couple of hours I would send out some emergency emails and Facebook messages.

The first thing when I got home was I had dad put me in front computer to send out email and Facebook reports that I was home. Then I tried eating some lunch but didn’t feel like much of an appetite. I was having a little bit of difficulty breathing until we loosened up some of the straps on my back brace and then I was okay.

The next thing I did was go through about 300 unread emails 95% of them were of course spam. Then I started going through my DVR to see how much damage I had. Fortunately I have a gadget that allows me to send IR remote signals to the DVR using a webpage on my PC. I see what’s on the bedroom DVR because I have a coaxial cable running from the bedroom into the office where I can watch the bedroom DVR from the office. There were only two movies that I’ve lost that I was not able to reschedule. Fortunately they were ones that weren’t very important to me. I get by without seeing them. There were quite a few that I really did not want to lose and was lucky to catch on the schedule a few days from now. I will still have to catch up with some shows on demand but that’s okay as well.

After that I started writing this blog. It’s great to be home with a real computer and real Internet connection and real cable TV with DVR!

Thanks for all of the prayers and support from family and friends.

PS added later… Neither Walgreens nor CVS had my antibiotic in liquid form. Instead we got it in a capsule form and we open a capsule up and mix it in some vanilla pudding. That’s what they did with some of the pills I had to take in the hospital. And he did make it home okay so I don’t need to send out any emergency emails 🙂 I still not limber enough to drive my wheelchair but I think I push buttons on my TV remote and we might even crush some candy on the iPod touch if we’re lucky. All future updates will be quickies on Facebook.