The last three months have been pretty devastating. The best way to describe it – this morning I had some downtime from work so I took an hour to go through and update this blog’s theme and do some maintenance. I noticed I had some draft post topics queued up, with titles like these:
Results of one year of yoga!
Goals for 2022
All optimistic, inspirational. A few months ago, while playing pickleball, I felt soreness in my upper back and shoulder. After a week of it not getting better I self-diagnosed it as the pesky pinched nerve in my neck that had reared its ugly head every year or so for the past two decades of my life. It always went away after two weeks or so. But not this time – it stuck around. At about the third week mark, it was recommended I try this local chiropractor that has a glowing reputation. I have always been anti-chiropractor, accupuncture, voodoo, etc. Against my better judgment, I thought to myself, “Can’t really hurt. I’ll go for a couple of weeks and, if nothing else, get some free stretching out of it.”
Big mistake. While at first the guy seemed like he might know what he’s doing, in the end he either made things worse, or at the very least I dodged a major bullet in that he only manipulated my neck a couple of times… After multiple visits spanning a three or four weeks with him, my arm started getting painful to the point where, at the end of my second to last schedule appointment with him, he said if it’s not improved by next week he would refer me to a sports medicine doctor. I immediately canceled the last appointment with him and scheduled one with the sports medicine doctor myself. Something was wrong, and I knew it.
The sports med doc put me on prednisone tablets. Those didn’t work. And the pain in my arm increased. She then recommended an epidural steroid injection, but this required an MRI. My claustrophobia forced me to find an “open, upright” MRI place in the middle of nowhere in New Jersey. A couple of days later the sports med doctor called.
“Your MRI is showing severe issues that will require immediate surgery. I don’t know how you’ve been able to work all this time. Do you have short-term disability benefit through work? Get your ducks in a row and get that started first thing tomorrow while I get you an appointment with a surgeon asap.”
Sports Medicine Doctor
I was devastated. She was light on details of exactly what was wrong. Or maybe she did say it and I was in such shock that I didn’t process what she was saying.
Two days later I was in a spine surgeon’s examination room at Penn. Before the exam, the nurse had me walk down the hallway to get a quick set of x-rays. I distinctly recall walking down that hall and noticing one of the health professionals look up from her computer monitor and look at me with what I interpreted as a strange sense of confusion. But I didn’t pay any mind at the time.
A few minutes later I’m back in the exam room. The confused lady, who turned out to be the Physician’s Assistant to the spine surgeon, comes in. She performs some physical tests and then gets to the point and doesn’t mince words: my spine is compressed, I am at risk for paralysis, and the surgeon would be in shortly.
The surgeon comes in and we spend the next hour plus discussing the situation. Thankfully my wife was there with me to listen, ask questions, and take notes.
I’ll write more about this in a later post, but the diagnosis:
Radiculopathy due to the pinched nerve at C6/C7
Multiple herniated discs
Severely compressed spinal cord in two places
The first two do not necessitate surgery by themselves, so long as the pain is tolerable. The third is a major concern. At that time, surgery was not an option, but I had “months, not years” to get it done.
The surgeon said I am very unique in that my MRI shows someone who should be in much worse physical shape, showing much worse symptoms. Then they saw me and they were surprised. I have minor symptoms that are only found via testing, specifically, hyperreflexia and minor balance issue. But due to the pain from the radiculopathy, it’s best to just do the surgery and get this taken care of. He recommended a “hybrid” fusion plus disc replacement surgery that, I later found, is quite uncommon and two subsequent surgeons assessed as either “unheard of” or “neither I nor any of my colleagues would EVER do that.”
At the time, I had complete confidence in this surgeon. And, probably against better judgment, still have a good amount of confidence in him. That didn’t stop me from getting two additional opinions, and I’m also waiting to get two more.
After leaving the initial consult, things were steady for a few days. Then, all of a sudden, I woke up one evening with severe arm pain. So bad that I couldn’t sleep. The nerve pain radiating down my arm was extreme.
A few weeks ago I received an extended trial of Apple News+. I’m not a big fan of subscriptions and try to avoid them, but that’s become increasingly impossible recently. There are three news websites I check daily:
Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal’s paywall in particular has been such a pain in the ass to me that I have vowed to never subscribe to them again. Anyone who has ever subscribed and then tried to cancel their WSJ subscription can attest to why I feel that way.
But the content is good enough that it enticed me to give Apple News+, which includes WSJ content, a try. For the past month or so I’ve been reading all of the WSJ articles I wanted to (averaging 3 to 5 per day) using this clunky procedure:
Navigate to wsj.com in Safari.
Click on the link to the article to open in a new tab.
Go to the article tab and copy the article title, then paste it into the Apple News app’s Search field.
Click the result to read the article in the Apple News app.
I knew this was clunky and dumb but figured it was required due to an insistence on the WSJ. Turns out I was wrong!
To open a Wall Street Journal article from Safari in the Apple News app, you simply use the Share button and then select Open in News.
I’m sitting at the local car dealership while they do a massive amount of repairs and maintenance to my trusty 8 year old Honda Civic. Dealer recommended maintenance is, for the most part, a complete rip-off that I avoid. One thing that can’t be avoided in Pennsylvania is the state-mandated annual shakedown called the PA State Safety and Emissions inspections.
My inspection was past due this time around – completely forgot about it. Post-Covid and, I suppose, lots of banked stimulus checks, seems to have caused a logjam when it comes to buying cars, getting them serviced, contractors, etc. So I had to wait over 2 weeks for the next available appointment.
A week before the appointment I wound up running over what appeared to be a crow bar that was flopping around on Route 422. I must have caught it with the edge of my tire and it popped up and smacked the undercarriage very hard and put a hole in the exhaust pipe. Took it to the local AAA Service Center as I didn’t like the sound of it, and they said they couldn’t repair it – the after-market pipe was not correct and Honda was charging $800 for a genuine part. I told em I’ll take it to Honda.
So this morning I arrive and, after about an hour the guy comes out and lists off a litany of costs, most required and some “recommended.” I immediately spotted the $2172 bill total and, quite frankly, breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. That’s slightly more than I expected – I was braced for a $2k bill. But surprisingly, the exhaust repair will be cheap at ~$300 because they are just going to weld it to repair it. But the brakes are close to failing, and tire alignment is needed, oil change, and some leaks apparently. In the end I just told him to do it all.
Let me say that it sucks paying a big bill like this no matter how you look at it. But I’m fine with this one. Know why? Because I can afford it. Some of the most mundanely stressful times in my life, so many, were when I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, still mostly living paycheck to paycheck, and each year waiting for “the guy” at the auto service shop to come out with the full court press sales pitch on everything he recommended I get fixed/maintained. I’ll never forget the last time I was at the dealer in the waiting room waiting for “the guy” to come out with the usually bad news. He came out to talk to a 40-something year old lady sitting nearby. I forget the specifics, but he quoted around $800 for the total cost, and mentioned something to the effect of, “Tesla parts aren’t cheap!” The lady replied that she would need to wait until the end of the month, when she has the cash to pay for the repair.
I was flabbergasted. Someone who owns (kidding – leased it no doubt) a Tesla can’t afford an $800 bill?!?
I understand that there could have been extenuating circumstances that happened post-purchase of the Tesla but it’s not likely…
That scene reminded me of my days not so long ago, sitting in the dealer waiting room, waiting for “the guy” and knowing I couldn’t comfortably afford the likely bad news. But decades of diligent saving, hard work, and mostly decent decisions have paid off. I can comfortably pay a $2172 repair bill and will drive off in my trusty old Honda Civic with a smile on my face, thinking about that Tesla owner.
I’m sitting in a somewhat local coffee shop, having had to take the day off from work for various reasons I’ll explain later. Before I post anything interesting on this blog I figured I’d take a moment to explain its purpose.
Most blogs have and will continue to be written by twenty-something year old dreamers. The type who struggle to make ends meet with a real job, or the luxury of having been born to parents who actually saved a little of their income towards the future and didn’t burden their kids with that. Those kids, the burdened, typically strive for stable, practical careers like accounting, engineering, teaching, etc. The types of jobs that range from the interesting to the boring, from well paid to not-so-well, but stability rules trumps all for them. I was one of those kids. But I was such a knucklehead in my teens I didn’t have grandiose dreams of success. I spent my teenage years working towards nothing of value. Sometime during middle school I turned from a fairly bright prospect into a mess. I made it out of bed on time and to school maybe once or twice per week. . At the time I thought I was just unbearably lazy. I now know it was depression.
Back then, in Philadelphia’s public school system, at least in the schools I attended, the teachers mostly were nice people who didn’t give a shit or were as bright as a bag of hammers. Something tells me nothing has changed, but hopefully they have. I suspect now they have truant officers who would not have allowed me to go weeks without appearing before they contacted my parents, but back then they didn’t. The goal of the schools back then was to matriculate students whenever possible. Fortunately for them, I consistently scored high on all standardized tests. Apparently that, along with a lot of teachers who didn’t want to not see me again the following year, equated to a string of D’s for grades that allowed me to get by and, eventually, graduate high school by the skin of my teeth.
I went on to somehow string along a pretty nice career, well paid and fruitful. That career is a bit tenuous at the moment, which I really want to write about as I expect it will help me process things and make better decisions for the future.
I plan on writing a lot more about my upbringing, my parents, my neighborhood, my depression, my schools and classmates, my time in the Navy, my career, etc. In fact, the real purpose of this blog is for me to begin writing my memoirs. As I write this, I’m about to turn fifty years old. For most of my life I did not expect to make it to fifty. I want to document how I got to this point. Please indulge me as I reflect on my past, present, and future. Perhaps most importantly to me, this blog will perhaps provide insight to my kids as to who their father was, why he did the things he did, the successes and failures.