Archive for May, 2009

Adventures in Medicine…Part 2

It started innocently enough.  Time for Sweetie’s annual mammogram.  For the uninitiated, a mammogram involves having your breasts compressed by a mid-Victorian machine that, according to Sweetie, was designed by men who never had the pleasure of the experience.

For more years than I care to count Sweetie has been subjected to mammograms, some of which have been followed by needle biopsies, breast sampling and related invasive procedures.  Luckily, none have discovered evidence of the big “C”.  In fact, it’s been many years since a breast exploration required anything more than the squishing by the mammo machine, followed by Dr. Jim’s all-clear pronouncement.

Off we went to Ojai Community Hospital.  A calm and unhurried place it is.  Coffee is provided to those of us who must sit and wait while our loved ones are prepared, poked and prodded.   Java and Joe’s has nothing to worry about but a cup of hot liquid helps to pass the time while one reads every word of the free, frequently inane Ojai and Ventura View…twice.

Ah, there she is, finished being squished.  “Piece of cake…let’s get some breakfast at Eggs and Things.” she says.  No sweat.  Routine.

Two days later the phone rings.  Nurse Barbara asks for Sweetie.  “Hi, uh, they found something unusual on the mammogram.  They want you to have an ultrasound.  No big deal.  Better to make sure.  I’ll ask the hospital to call and set one up.”  And they do.  For a week later.  No sense rushing things.  Let’s not get excited.  But we do.

We arrive.  “Hi, I’m Ralph.  I’ll be doing your ultrasound.  Right breast, correct?”  No need for a female attendant.  I’ve elected to sit and watch while Ralph explores my wife’s private parts.  I view the monitor as the hills, valleys and undersea gardens appear on the screen.  I think every ripple bodes ill.  I scan Ralph’s face for clues.  None.  He’s good.

“All done.  But before you get dressed, let me get the radiologist to take a peek at things.”  Dr. Bob enters the semi-darkened exam room.  He peers at the snapshots that Ralph took.  I watch his face for clues.  None.  He’s good. 

“Uh, you see this shadowy area.  Right here, above your nipple.  I can’t be sure what’s there.  Probably nothing.  But I think we should do a needle biopsy.  Hopefully, it’ll be OK.”  Sure it will.  Let’s not get excited.  But we do.

Coincidentally, Sweetie’s annual physical with Dr. Jim is scheduled two days later.  We arrive.  Dr. Jim is concerned but calm.  “You know, with your family history, we really should do the biopsy.  Better to be sure.”  I suppose I’d hoped he’d say “Forget about the biopsy.  What does that guy know anyway?  You look the picture of health.  Go home.  See you in a year.”  We schedule the biopsy for a week later.  Let’s not get excited.  But we do.

Jan the hospital nurse greets us, escorts us to the outpatient area and prepares Sweetie for the biopsy.  “You’re lucky.  Dr. Julia is doing the procedure.  She’s done it a million times.  I’d pick her to do mine.”  Ah, I think.  We’ve got the breast queen.  Lucky us.

I’m shooed out to the lobby.  “Wait here.  I’ll come get you when it’s all over.”  Sure she will.  I picture myself dehydrated and covered with cobwebs.  “He waited too long”, they will say.  I read the same Ojai and Ventura View without understanding a word.

She comes and gets me.  So far so good.  “It’ll be about five to seven days before pathology has any results.”  I calculate.  It’s Monday morning.  Five days takes us to Friday.  If we don’t hear by Friday, the Memorial Day weekend starts.  That takes us to Tuesday, next week.  Crap.  Let’s not worry.  But we do.

The week passes, very slowly, as in a fog.  By Wednesday, I react every time the phone rings.  When we are away I constantly check for messages.  I try to hide my anxiety from Sweetie.  She’s doing a lot better than me, a whole lot.  I marvel at her composure.  But I know what’s going on inside.

Thoughts race through my head.  What if?  I’m nicer than usual.  I don’t need to be asked twice. I pick up after myself.  I don’t leave the paper on the table.  “Whatever you want.  Sure, that’s great.  You’re absolutely right.  What can I do for you.  Here, let me do that.  You look terrific.  I love you.”

Friday morning. “Uh, maybe you should call Nurse Barbara in Dr. Jim’s office.  Who knows, maybe they got the results.”  Sweetie, hesitates.  Then dials.  She’s caught in a telephone loop.  She hangs up.  Crap.

It’s mid-afternoon.  “Uh, maybe you should try Nurse Barbara again.”  Contact is made with Dr. Jim’s receptionist. “Hi, I had a breast biopsy on Monday and I wonder if you got the results yet.”  I sense the woman on the other end of the line picturing herself in Sweetie’s skin.

In a nanosecond, Nurse Barbara is on the line.  “Hi Ila, I’d be a little surprised if the results were in yet, but let me get your file.”  An eternity passes.  “Well, here it is.”  I watch Sweetie’s face while she listens to Barbara reading the results.  Her mouth slowly molds into a broad smile.  She gives me the thumbs up.  “Thank you Barbara. Have a wonderful weekend.”

Her eyes moisten, so do mine.

Happy Birthday to me!

I started celebrating about a week ago.  I’m 70 today.

Maybe the early start was just an excuse to abuse my body… more.  Had a cigar and an extra glass of wine last night, maybe two.  Or maybe it’s because I’ve begun to think about the number of birthdays yet ahead.  No sense wasting time.

Harry was 70 in March.  I remember his e-mail on that auspicious day… “I’ve entered my seventh decade.  Who’da thunk it.”  After counting on my fingers, I wrote “Harry, you’ve actually finished your seventh decade and started on your eighth…how does that make you feel?”

I stayed in bed a little bit longer this morning.  Sweetie was there too.  Nice.  I’d be there yet except for the first of a couple of phone calls from friends announcing my advancing age to the tune of Happy Birthday.

My niece, Sharon, sent me a YouTube link to some guy singing a song about getting older.  It’s been viewed nearly 4 million times.  I’m sure she didn’t know it was my birthday but the song sure fit.  I grinned, related to it and felt strangely happy.

As my old Rabbi used to say “Whenever I look in the mirror, I see a young man.”  And, except for the occasional unexplained body aches, and my increasing inability to rise gracefully from a sitting position, I feel pretty good.

It’s a beautiful day in the Upper Ojai.

Happy birthday, me.


Throw the bums out

Sweetie and I were cruising down the Dennison Grade yesterday.   Beautiful day, crystal clear even with that awful fire in Santa Barbara.  About halfway down the grade we stopped at the temporary stoplight that heralds the road work on the cliff-side.  Two guys with shovels were poking at the newly graded area.  “At this rate they may finish before the next ice age ” I said to Sweetie.

The radio came to life with the 10 o’clock news.  “State budget deficit to increase dramatically even if all six ballot propositions pass voter scrutiny on May 19.  Bills won’t be paid.  People in need will go without.”

“Those guys in Sacramento should be ashamed of themselves.  What do we need them for?” my lovely wife said in her own unique style.  “They should be doing their job.  It’s their fault we’re in this mess.  They shouldn’t get paid for doing nothing.”

I’ve been reading about 1A, 1B, 1C…that alphabet soup of unintelligible propositions that were once declared as the solution to our budget crisis.   Alas, the guiding light that provides the secret of life is all but missing as I wade through the available information.  Or maybe I’m just too lazy to cope with anything longer than one paragraph.

The Ventura Star tried to let us in on the secret last week.  But it took a page and a half to scratch the surface of just one of propositions.  The letters to the editor of the Star offer little in the way of sensible guidance.  More often than not they are the products of ignorance and political bias.  Frequently they seem to be produced by people who live in another galaxy.  Often more entertaining than the comics page…more often a sad reflection of what passes as intelligence.

Paid advertisements are no comfort…surprise!  While slicker and more emotional than the rantings of the letters to the editor, they are generally the products of people with ulterior and self-satisfying motives.

Current polls reflect Sweetie’s frustration.  They show that five of the six propositions are doomed.  Only F is getting a warm reception…banning pay hikes for legislators in deficit years…yippee.  As the LA Times reported yesterday…

If the propositions do not pass, the state could find itself as much as $23 billion short of the money it needs to pay its bills over the next year, according to a new forecast by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. The poll, from the Public Policy Institute of California, found that even as voter interest in the ballot measures rises, all are trailing except the sixth one — Proposition 1F

The article also lists what will happen if the bills fail and revenue continues to fall.  Including commuting the sentences of 38,000 prison inmates and closing fire stations.  Howard Jarvis look-alikes say it’s just scare tactics.

And who’s to blame for this mess.  Start with the 1978 ballot proposition we, the voters, embraced.  Among other things, it gave a 1/3 minority in the legislature the ability to block tax increases.  The tip of the iceberg.

With nothing better to do I looked at the various ballot propositions  that we, in our infinite wisdom, passed during the last ten years.  Twenty-two authorized the issuance of bonds and directed how the loaned money was to be spent.  And for good measure, nine more simply restricted the ability of the legislature to collect or spend money.  That’s just the last ten years.  I peeked at the 1990’s and voter management of the state’s business is even more awe inspiring.  When you consider that we just passed Proposition 8 limiting the definition of marriage, you get some idea of our continuing wisdom.

Just in case you think the legislature will absorb its losses after May 19, regroup and negotiate a new deal, think again.  We, in a fit of pique, termed out most of the experienced representatives by voting for term limits.  The current crop of negotiators is operating with learners’ permits.  Heaven help us.

Oh, and for that vanishing breed of conservative Republicans who just want to slash and pillage, our per capita State government spending  in 2007 ranked us 26th in the country.  Just behind Iowa and slightly ahead of Montana.  Alaska, home of the Snow Queen, spent at three times our rate.

So who’s to blame for this mess anyway?  Got a mirror?




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