I hate being a grownup!

Those who have followed my life since January, 2020 know that I’ve been dealing with some serious shit regarding my health, Worker’s Compensation, and Human Resources (a term that makes me feel like ore). For the rest of you, here’s a quick summation.

I was injured at work. My compensation claim was denied with the declaration of a Pre-existing Condition that I never knew I had, nor had any doctor I’ve seen in my life (and that’s a while). My HR department canceled my health insurance. When I fought back, they reinstated it with an “oops”. Then they canceled my dental insurance. Another “oops”.

The company that administers our FMLA plan told me (on Feb 5) that I had to be back at work by Feb 4 or risk termination. This, despite the fact that my continuing post-op restriction essentially defines my work. Try “no stress or strain to the abdominal or core muscles” while doing direct patient care in a hospital. To extend my leave requires a signed statement from the surgeon. Will he do it? Does he have time? Does he agree with the nurse who revised the restriction from “no lifting >20 pounds” to “no core stress or strain”? Stay tuned.

A big part of me wants to say “Fine. Fire me. It still hurts too much to go back to work.” The grownup part says that my Social Security benefit will be significantly higher if I stay there for 3 more years. That same grownup says that if I quit, give up my health insurance and go on Medicare, I won’t be able to provide insurance to my child until they turn 26, which was my plan; especially if they go to grad school in the fall and leave their job and that insurance. The grownup says: “You’ve stuck it out 20 years. You can live through 3 ½ more.”

See why I hate being a grownup?

Interval training with the Stray Cats

It has been exactly one month that I’ve been off work. To rebuild the endurance to get back to work, I stayed out of the house for half the day yesterday, running errands. It was exhausting. It is time for the next step – interval training.

The Stray Cats were my training partners for the day. With tempos ranging from ~60 bpm to over 100, and a couple of breaks for them to get a drink and between encores, they were a great inspiration and well-paced. I matched their tempo most of the time (hence the intervals). I managed to get my hands in the drops today for the first time – I haven’t been able to bend that far and have been on the bar tops exclusively until today. No fancy Smart Trainer for me; just the one I bought used about 30 years ago to rehab from a prior injury. (Yeah, I have to take it apart and fix it when it gets hot and falls apart – that may be why the original owner sold it – but that gets me another break.)

Health insurance rant

Ten years ago, I had a company paid health insurance plan. It was through an HMO. Everything was covered. Their job was to help me stay healthy. Then everything changed.

Health insurance costs began to rise precipitously. Wisconsin Act 10 banned union activity at my place of employment, so I lost my contract and my union’s protection. The Affordable Care Act set minimum standards, so employers raced to the bottom, choosing to meet the bare minimum.

The result? My health insurance now costs $231/month, I have a co-pay for each doctor visit, I pay 10% co-insurance for everything other than a routine doctor visit (lab tests, x-rays, surgery…). My maximum out of pocket expense is now $13,700/year (not counting premiums). My actual maximum is therefore $16,472, compared with zero dollars ten years ago – in practical terms, a massive pay cut.

Death Ride

Monitor Pass (snow should be gone for the ride), photo from California Alps Cycling

Registration is now open for the Death Ride on Saturday, July 11, 2020. Enjoy beautiful Alpine County, California, climb your choice of 1-5 mountain passes, and ride up to 129 miles (~200 km). For anyone planning to travel out there, a couple of handy options I recommend for sleeping – Turtle Rock Park for those of the camping persuasion, and Sorenson’s Resort for those of the sleeping indoors persuasion. Both are right on the route. Now that my reservations are in, I can tell the rest of you. This will be my return to the scene of the crime after 28 years. We’ll see if my legs and lungs still have it. Registration is also open for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to the Death Ride. HHH starts at Blue Mound State Park. Camping is available there or at nearby Brigham County Park. Both are great. I have no recommendation for sleeping indoors. HHH entry is by lottery, so get your application in by February 16. The ride is on Saturday, June 20. No, I’m not going to do both.

 A view from the top of Blue Mound.
View from Blue Mound, photo from WI DNR

Winter

If you live in a cold climate, remember your friendly neighborhood botanical garden. My first introduction to summer in the winter was the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. Today I visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, where there is a special orchid display this month. I kicked myself for forgetting my camera with macro lens, so you’ll have to settle for iPhone photos. Check it out:

Career Change

I’ve had some time to think while home recuperating. I was going to title this post “Back in the Saddle Again” to commemorate being able to ride a bike again after a month. I already used that title over a year ago, including a link to Gene Autry singing the song.

No, this calls for much more. I’ve had a great deal of difficulty working with Worker’s Compensation insurance and with my employer’s Human Resources department. They may be trying to make life difficult for me in hopes I will leave, or they may be incompetent. I’m not sure which is worse. Or, maybe:

Okay, benefit of the doubt is over. It is not merely a failure to communicate. The Worker’s Comp insurance company’s doctor has determined that my work injury has nothing to do with my work; that it is a congenital condition that took 66 years to show up and the fact that the symptoms appeared right after an encounter with 425# is totally irrelevant – not just not causal, but not even an exacerbation of my “pre-existing condition”. Then there’s the fact that HR canceled my family health insurance plan and gave me an individual plan. After I (and my boss and her boss) raised a stink, they reinstated the family plan and canceled my dental insurance.

At any rate, I was excited to read about our President’s new Space Force, and I signed up! If I can’t count on having Worker’s Compensation insurance and I can’t count on having health insurance, it’s time to change careers! I know I’ll get good healthcare in the military! Here is my new uniform patch:

SPACE CADET

I report for basic training April 1. I will be proud to represent my country in space.

Not Gene Autry.

Have you noticed how much the current Republican Party resembles the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter series? The very people Lord Voldemort Donald Trump insults (e.g. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz) fall all over themselves and each other to praise him, even if they previously called him “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” [Graham], or said “Donald Trump’s consistently disgraceful behavior is beneath the office” [Cruz]. Everyone lives in such fear of him that no one is willing to say the emperor has no clothes. I tried rearranging the letters to “Donald John Trump”. I didn’t come up with “I am Lord Voldemort”, but that doesn’t prove anything. Let me know in the comments if you come up with anything interesting. If you see weird tattoos on their forearms, let me know.

Does anyone else out there wake up some mornings and wonder if this is really the world we are living in? Where “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be a kind of quid pro quo which results in impeachment”? Where the argument can go from “it didn’t happen”, to “it might have happened”, to “it happened and that’s OK”, to “it happened and that’s a good thing.” In another bit of surrealism, Sen Lisa Murkowski announced, “I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate” as she announced that she was voting against allowing any witnesses or written evidence, thereby assuring that there will be no fair trial. As the Red Queen said, “sentence first, then verdict”. In this case it’s “acquittal first, then evidence.”

Tailwinds Across America

Thanks to richardtirith4919 for alerting me to the book “Tailwinds Across America” by RJ Kinderman. Kinderman and his then SO of 10 months embarked on a cross country bike trip in 1981. They followed a northern tier route similar to that of Cycle America, leaving Vancouver with $475 ($1400 in today’s dollars, per USDL BLS* calculator) and arriving in Maine broke. The book came out in honor of their 30th wedding anniversary, so clearly the trip strengthened their relationship. That much togetherness under those conditions could make or break a new relationship, so I honor their trip and their commitment. The book brought tears to my eyes more than once. You could think of it as this coast-to-coast blog after 30 years of reflection. Since Bob and Diane were self-contained, they had some very different experiences than ours in a supported tour, but it was a way for me to travel vicariously when I couldn’t even get on a trainer. I highly recommend it as a fun and quick read!

Back in the saddle; really

On January 31, I put on the bike shoes, set the resistance to its lowest level, shifted into my lowest gear, and got on my trainer. I planned a 10 minute easy spin. I checked the clock to see how close I was to being done – 3 minutes had passed. This wasn’t going to be easy. It did get better. When I set a stopwatch so I could count my cadence, the minutes went by more quickly and I did manage 10 minutes in my lowest gear at 90 RPM. On day 2 I managed to shift up, though still with low resistance, and ride twice, for a total of 25 minutes.

Karl Harter

This post was waiting for the official announcement of the 2020 Death Ride. I’m not waiting any longer. Registration was to open in December, then January. Now it’s February. Maybe this will cause them to spring into action so I can make my summer plans. [Ed note: The groundhog was declared officially to have seen his shadow this morning. I suspect he was basking in the sun, wearing shades due to the reflected brightness from the snow, and didn’t really notice the shadow. The temperature is headed for 50 degrees F (10 C). I’m heating my house with passive solar today – the door to the front porch is open. Shorts and t-shirt weather!]

Instead, the post is going up due to the death of Karl Harter. I met Karl about 45 years ago. He was cooking at the Main Course, a down-home restaurant with home-cooked meals at reasonable prices; the sort of food I would normally cook myself but I was either feeling lazy that day or I was on campus and hungry. I sold raw food (working at a grocery co-op) and Karl sold cooked food. That was our initial connection.

Karl was also a runner, weightlifter, yoga practitioner, and writer. He started and ran Movin’ Shoes, a shoe store and gathering place for runners. I went to the release party for his first novel, In the Skin, about a young weightlifter in Trenton, NJ. It was released as a mass market paperback, with a rather lurid cover illustration. Karl had just learned that he was expected to market the book himself if he wanted a contract for his next book. He was pretty clear that he was a writer and not a promotor. While the book never made the best sellers list, he continued to write and publish.

Years later he autographed that book for me when he was in the hospital for the first of many surgeries. A tumor had been removed from his head and a free tissue transfer performed to cover the defect. That means that muscle and skin from somewhere else is used to fill the space. Since the muscle will later atrophy, it is initially oversized. This gives a rather lumpy appearance for a while. When the surgeon came in and asked Karl how he was doing, Karl said, “Fine – but you didn’t tell me I was going to look like Mr. Potato Head!” (As you can see below, he no longer looked like Mr. Potato Head.)

Karl also wrote the true crime novel Winter of Frozen Dreams (subtitle: “The shocking true story of seduction, suspicion and murder in Madison”). A film adaptation followed. More on Karl can be found at The Ride website. This is the group for which I was going to ride last fall. The ride was canceled due to thunderstorms with a flash flood watch.

Karl Harter; Image from Theridewi.org

One of Karl’s obituaries said, “He used words like macadam and ephemeral.” Maybe that’s another reason I liked him. In a 1999 essay about my life in community radio, I wrote, “part of the reason I enjoyed live radio was its ephemeral quality. What I did went out over the airwaves and was gone”. [Now, if you want real weirdness, the next excerpt is from an essay written by my brother for the same anthology. He had worked for a previous radio station in the same studio. We each read the other’s words only when the book was published. “It was the ultimate in ephemerae, leaving a trace only in the minds of those who did it or those who heard it .”] **

Feel free to join me in making a gift in Karl’s memory at: https://www.supportuw.org/how-to-give/school-college/medicine-and-public-health/karl-harter-scholarship/. Normally I’m not a fan of the phrase “courageous battle with cancer” (to which my daughter will attest), but Karl lived with cancer for over 20 years, losing parts of his body over that span. In the past few years I occasionally ran into him at a favorite breakfast spot and he never lost the zest that I loved in him 45 years ago. For most of us, life is ephemeral and we die “leaving a trace only in the minds of those” we touched. Karl will also live on in the books and the store he left behind.

* USDL BLS = United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

**WORT-Madison; 25 years of Community Radio Copyright January 2000 by Back Porch Radio Broadcasting, Inc.

Death Ride 2020/rehab

In six months, I’m riding the Death Ride – 129 miles, 5 passes, 15,000 feet of climbing. Today it hurts to get in or out of bed. I can only get out of a chair if it has arms, tying my shoes is an adventure, and if I drop something on the floor it has to stay there. If I fell, I’d be there until someone came to pick me up.

Such is the wonder of the human body/mind, that such a thing can be possible – that I can hold those realities simultaneously.

https://ytcropper.com/cropped/Qq5e179c9b8fb1d

Post-op Day #0: Not much pain (yet), but peeing requires standing with a urinal for several minutes to squeeze out a few drops in hopes that I don’t have to return to the hospital for a catheter or see my bladder explode. Using NSAIDS (which I normally avoid because they don’t seem to help my pain or inflammation but do cause constipation – and constipation is not something you want when your abdomen is held together by plastic mesh and Superglue) and lots of ice.

Post-op Day #1: OK, now it hurts. Not so bad if I don’t move, but any change of position requires careful thought and lots of use of my arms. While it hurts to move, the longer I stay in one position, the worse it is when I do move. Catch-22.

Post-op Day #2: I walked all the way to the corner and back, then a block in a different direction later in the day. Things are looking up. No more oxycodone.

Post-op Day #3: Scrotal edema is the new change for today. Purple may be my favorite color, but not there. My second ice pack from the hospital has started to leak. Cut my Tylenol dose in half, still lots of ice.

Post-op Day #4: Time to get dressed in real clothes to go to a funeral. First some compression shorts for the edema. Now some pants. Unfortunately, I had to loosen my pajama pants last night, so I’m not sure about getting pants on. They go on but are about 3 inches from fastening. Just my luck, I bought some new pants this fall that are too big in the waist but otherwise comfortable – how is it that waist size, measured in inches, can be 2+ inches different in pants from the same company? I think they want men who are getting old and fat to be able to pretend that isn’t so and they can still wear the same size. At any rate, I have real clothes on today, not sweats. Another small victory. I just sneezed for the first time this week. That was not a victory. Laughing hurts, but it has redeeming value that coughing lacks.

The funeral was for Carl Durocher. My brother once said, quoting a co-worker, “There are only 50 people in Madison. The rest are an illusion.” Carl was one of those 50 people. I first met him 45-50 years ago. Our paths crossed over the years but I can’t claim he was my friend. They crossed again when I was a student and he ran an organization called “Computers to Help People”. (If I’m not mistaken, it was in the same building that housed the Whole Earth Co-op [and, briefly, the Yellow Jersey Bicycle Co-op] in the 60s.) He was at the forefront on computer accessibility issues. He chaired the city’s Transit and Parking Committee. I last saw him at a choral concert conducted by my son. At his visitation I saw our US Senator, Tammy Baldwin, who used to live a few blocks away.

Carl Durocher – Photo credit: Steve Apps, WI State Journal

Post-op Day #5: My bike sits on a trainer in my daughter’s bedroom. It is mocking me. Even if I could swing my leg over the top tube, I wouldn’t be able to turn the cranks. Even if I could turn the cranks, I wouldn’t be able to clip out. The only comfortable position pre-op was on a bike, bent over the handlebar. In a painful irony, now I can’t even sit up straight to eat at a table. I have to hold the plate in my hand because I can’t reach the table, needing to recline partially at all times. The day’s goal is to get up and down stairs with a reciprocal gait all day (not leading with my left foot every time I step up).

Week 2: It has been a week since surgery. I met my goal for the stairs. I’ve met two friends for coffee. I can walk farther each day – walking is now less painful than pre-op (sometimes). I actually passed someone on a sidewalk today. Lest that go to my head, several others passed me in the next block. The idea of getting on a bike is still absurd.

One of my rules in acute care is: “If it hurts, don’t do it.” One of my rules for post-acute rehab is: “Everything in moderation, including moderation. If you don’t occasionally bump up against your limits, you don’t know what they are.” Last night I went to see Dwight Yoakam. Had I not bought the ticket months ago, I’m not sure I’d have felt ready to venture out in the world 10 days post-op, sitting in those low theatre seats with limited legroom.

I struggled through the opening act, trying to get comfortable. When Dwight launched into “Streets of Bakersfield” the pain went away. He was dressed in his usual tight jeans, denim jacket, and cowboy hat. He’s old now (nearly as old as I) but he still has his signature dance move and it still made the women scream – some of them young enough to be his children. His band was decked out in sequined suits, led by a guy whose name I can’t find, but he played keyboards, fiddle, mandolin, accordion, and pedal steel guitar – sometimes more than one in the same song. His guitarist and guitar tech had a dance of their own, swapping instruments without missing a beat. The songs came in chunks of five or so at a time without pause. He covered tunes by Elvis, Jerry Jeff Walker, Merle Haggard, Chuck Berry, and others, as well as his own catalog from the past 30 years. He never was one to shy away from cover tunes.

I’m glad I went, but I’m still not ready to get on a bike.

The lake has frozen!

Lake Mendota officially froze on January 12. Since January 2000 it has frozen later than this 4 times. Prior to that (from 1852-1999) it froze later than that 3 times – once in each 50 year period. National Geographic has called Lake Mendota “the most-studied lake in the world”.

This is posting two years after the debut of the blog. At the time I only knew it would last until we reached the Atlantic Ocean on the coast-to-coast tour; but I’d paid WordPress for a year so kept writing. Now I can say it’ll stick around through the Death Ride, or as long as I have something to say and you want to read it.

Your correspondent has aged a lot in those two year – truth be told, most of that happened since an injury in May of 2019 and even more of it after the surgery to fix the damage done. I’ll be younger again in a month. In January 2018, I was doing a lot of core work including strengthening and stretching; stretching now is trying to stand up straight and sit at the table like it’s not a Seder. I can pick something up from the floor if I’m real careful. Core strength? Ha! When I cough or sneeze, I hold on to keep from splitting open.

Next time you hear from me, I’ll be riding…

Pennant Race

The Milwaukee Braves were hosting the Cincinnati Redlegs in a crucial series. The Reds were known as the Redlegs in those years so we’d know they weren’t commies, this being the McCarthy Era.

Warren Spahn was on the mound for the Braves; Milton Famey pitched for the Redlegs. Famey was looking great that day. He had all his stuff and the Braves hitters couldn’t touch him; not the great Eddie Mathews, not the feared Hank Aaron. As the zeros piled up on the scoreboard, a perfect game was on the horizon. Spahn was pitching a gem as well, and as the seventh inning stretch rolled around, it was still a scoreless tie. The Braves were getting desperate. Lew Burdette snuck off and arranged a little plot.

A beautiful woman lured Milton Famey up the tunnel from the dugout and convinced him to join her for a beer, with an unspoken promise of more to come after the game.

Milt went out and pitched a perfect seventh and eighth. When he came to the mound for the bottom of the ninth, something had changed. The beer had taken effect. His pinpoint control was not quite the same. He walked Mathews to open the inning. He followed that with a walk to Aaron. Reds fans began to worry, but he struck out Frank Torre on 4 pitches and forced Harry Hanebrook to ground out before walking the bases full. The pitching coach came out and Famey assured him all was well. The no-hitter was still in play.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1954-ad-says-schlitz-beer-made-milwaukee-famous.jpg
1954 Schlitz ad

Catcher Del Crandall stepped to the plate and swung and missed on a blazing fastball. A wicked curve caught him looking. He took the count to 3-2. He fouled off the next four pitches. Finally, Famey missed low and away and the winning run walked in. He lost while pitching a no-hitter.

Once the story came to light, that seventh inning stretch can of Schlitz became known as “The Beer That Made Milt Famey Walk Us.”