Thursday, May 4, 2017

Once again, I remember

It's just another 'normal' day around here. Go to the doctor and then wait for the other doctors to call and make appointments for me. During this time I sit and read the newspapers, including the 'failing' New York Times. The 'failing' New York Times has had its readership number explode in the days following the most expensive Inauguration in history.

Ah! A doctor has called and I have an appointment next week, just a few hours ahead of another doctors appointment. Just a typical day among the elders of this country; elders that can't possibly need all of this medical care.

I did have a small victory this morning as I left the family doctor's office with a large paper bag filled with samples of some of the drugs I need. Taking something from the pharmaceutical companies without paying is always a victory.

I was going to write about remembrances and I better get to it before I forget. As I read the news of today I can't help but to remember the 60's and 70's of the last century. In 1962 I had been discharged from active duty in the Navy and then had found some jobs that didn't pay much and had no future, but since Mom wasn't charging me a whole lot for room and board; just $20, I could get by. Then good fortune came my way and a neighbor, who I didn't know, asked me if I wanted to become an apprentice in the Carpenter's Union. If I did, he had a job and a career for me. It was going to cost me $50 to join the union and initially I would be making double the  dollars per hour that I currently 'enjoyed'. And that would change every six months, with a 10% raise if I didn't quit.

I bit at the thought of raises every six months and I became an apprentice. This changed my life completely. I had no idea as to why I was asked to do this by a complete stranger. Sure, I knew his daughter and since we worked for the same company, I told her one time that I thought the job I had was boring. Also, I  was in very good shape, I was six two and 180 pounds. That might have been the reason for the offer. Or, it may have been pure luck or it was a genuine blessing from God. Whatever.

After a week or two, I figured that the man who had hired me must have been looking for someone that appeared to be strong enough for the job, as this turned out to be the toughest job I had ever known and the money I was making was barely adequate for the labor involved. I was in the Carpenter's Union but I was an apprentice drywall installer and steel stud framer.

Many years have gone by since I made that fortunate decision and now I am enjoying the "fruits of my labor" and they aren't all good. My first spinal surgery was nine years ago; a fusion of the lower four vertebrae to correct the damage that lifting thousands of sheets of drywall inflicted on them. Then three more surgeries during those nine years. My neurosurgeon warned me, nine years ago, that the first surgery would not 'cure' me and that I could only expect pain, light to heavy, for the rest of my life. Irreparable damage had been done and he could do very little to help me, but he promised to help all that he could. And he has. Now the damage done to my cervical vertebrae has made its presence known with Level 8 pain in my shoulder every morning. This damage was almost certainly caused by all the times I installed (hung) drywall on ceilings (lids). You and your partner would roll the sheet of drywall from where it rested against your shoulders and up to your head. Then you would use your head to press the sheet against the ceiling framing and then begin nailing it or screwing it in place. I had a bald spot (not permanent) from a season of doing lids. And I had  shoulder pains that always went away when I stopped this harmful practice. Unfortunately, I did this kind of work for close to thirty years before I moved into office work where there was less chance of injury.

After seeing my MRI, my surgeon, a friend now, just shook his head and said "your back is just a mess!". Then he said, "This should be fairly easy to fix" and he took us into his office where he has the BIG monitor and gave us most of the details of his plan of attack. I will end up with 4 cervical vertebrae fused and all the nerve pathways will be widened and spurs removed. The pain will not end immediately as the nerves have suffered a major insult and may take a while to get over it. I will still have a pain in my lower spine and adjacent hip but he said he won't do any more surgery on my back. The amount of scar tissue there makes even a simple surgery a major risk because of the chance of severing a nerve accidentally. During my last back surgery he spent over four hours behind a microscope as he cut very slowly towards his target.

Now for the part of the story that I really enjoy. After showing us the MRI and giving us his plan, he sat back and we began to talk. We talked about the situation in the Middle East. We discussed the refugee problem. We talked about Jimmy Carter leaving the Southern Baptists. We talked about his childhood, growing up in rural Georgia and going to church with his grandmother and trying to figure out why there were two Southern Baptist churches in his town, less than a mile apart. We talked about Netanyahu. We talked about politics in Africa. We talked for close to half an hour before  he said, "I guess I had better let you go" and then we all stood and said our goodbyes.  This is the second time he's done this. He is one of the top rated neurosurgeons in Northern California. He was a teaching doctor at UCD Med school before moving his family away from the too busy life in Sacramento and yet, he is more than willing, almost eager, to have a normal conversation with two people. For myself, I am not a bit nervous when I know that it is my friend that is going to be doing the cutting, just millimeters away away from my carotid artery and my spinal cord.

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