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.

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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.

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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.” 

PSA

One of my jobs is English-to-English translation, as people always seem to have trouble understanding each other.

While I am home recuperating from surgery, I thought I’d explain a few medical terms for your edification.

Public Service Announcement

  • “Minor surgery” – anything done to someone else.
  • “Procedure” – surgery that your insurance won’t fully cover.
  • “Outpatient procedure” – surgery that even Medicare won’t fully cover.
  • “This won’t hurt a bit” – It won’t hurt me to do it to you. I can’t say what it will feel like on the receiving end.
  • “Just a little prick. It’s not really painful.” – The President is just a little prick, too; but he causes plenty of pain.
  • “This may cause a little discomfort.” – Yeah, doc, let me do it to you and then tell me about discomfort.
  • “Deductible” – Don’t even think about using your insurance before you’re broke.
  • “Co-pay” – You think you’re insured, but we think that unless you have a little skin in the game, you’ll actually try to use your insurance. This’ll make you think twice.
  • “Co-insurance” – Ha! After you satisfied the deductible and made the co-pay, you thought insurance would cover the rest – sucker! Now you get to split the rest of the cost with us!
  • “We’ll just run a few tests.” – We bought this new (and really expensive) machine. The only way we can afford it is to use it a lot and bill you for it.
  • Bonus! Want to save on medical expenses? The TSA scanners have an uncanny ability to detect injuries! My most recent scan found a cavity before I went to the dentist. That’s not to mention the other injuries they have found.

Worker’s Compensation

The popular myth about Worker’s Compensation Insurance is that it is there to protect workers from unsafe working conditions. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story: Worker’s Compensation Insurance is (also) there to protect employers from lawsuits by employees. If you are hurt on the job, you can’t sue your employer for damages. You can file an insurance claim and hope the insurance company (which works for the employer, not you) will agree that your injury was caused by your job and pay for your medical care and a portion of your wages while you are unable to work. More likely is that they will dispute your claim, asserting that you had a pre-existing condition or that your injury was caused by something you do in your spare time. To collect the benefits you are owed you may have to hire an attorney to represent you even though you can’t sue.

Another popular myth is that workers fake injuries in order to collect benefits. Since benefits are set at a fraction of your wages, you have to be pretty stupid to get only a portion of your wages (unless you have some other lucrative job you can perform while collecting benefits, a rarity indeed) while living on savings or scrimping to get by. The insurance company may spend more on surveillance (hiring private investigators to follow you around and film your activities) than the cost of compensation for the injury. An article in the Journal of Social Research (Tennyson, 2008) asserts that industry estimates of fraud are grossly exaggerated (by a factor of 10) and that surveillance activities decrease trust and lead to increased fraud.

In The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Spieler and Burton (2012) cite more than a dozen reasons for under-reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses and cite conclusions from other studies including ” at least 80% of all medical costs caused by occupational diseases were missed by workers’ compensation programs.” (Leigh and Robbins, 2004)

So are workers ripping off the system in large numbers, as popularly believed? Or is the system ripping off workers in large numbers, as the evidence suggests? The evidence suggests that workers fail to report work-related injuries for multiple reasons including fear of retaliation, and that insurance companies fail to pay for work-related injuries for multiple reasons including asserting that doctors can’t prove that the job was the sole cause of the injury or illness. The evidence also suggests that insurers will go to great lengths to discourage claims and to reject those that are filed.

What do others think of US Healthcare?

Most of the world has a healthcare system. The US has an insurance system. Why does it not strike us as odd that we have a “system” centered around an industry that makes its money by withholding care? The more premiums we pay and the fewer services they pay for, the “healthier” the system is. Take a few minutes to watch the video above and hear what people who have a healthcare system say when asked what they think about the cost of care in the US. Our leaders and our media want to convince us that we can’t afford a single-payer system. The rest of the world recognizes that we can’t afford not to have one.

Human Resources

Resources have value based on the cost of extracting them versus the value added to the product. A few years ago, when the fracking boom hit, western Wisconsin was found to have the best frac sand around. A new industry appeared. They blew up fields to mine sand and built new railroad lines to haul the sand to natural gas wells. A few years went by, and they decided sand in Texas was cheaper, closer to the gas deposits, and good enough. The Wisconsin sand mining industry went bust.

If you are a highly skilled widget maker with 20 years of experience and know things, like where to bang on a machine to restart it when it freezes up, and you make great widgets, and you pay attention so that you know stuff that no one else in the company knows, you get paid well. But maybe they do some calculating and decide that a newly-trained widget maker, who gets paid a lot less, will do most of the time. When the machine goes down or they don’t know where to find something, maybe they figure the lost time will be made up for by the lower wages. Now it’s time to get rid of you. Having Security walk you out of the plant may be bad for morale. What to do, what to do?

Maybe they can make it unpleasant enough that you’ll take early retirement to avoid the headaches. What if they suddenly start making mistakes on your payroll? Or maybe change your family health insurance plan to a single plan without telling you? Maybe your pension contributions get messed up. Maybe, if you notice the mistakes and complain, they’ll get fixed eventually. Or maybe you’ll just get fed up and leave, allowing then to bring in a lower-paid worker. Nah, that would never happen, right? But if the cost of extracting your value becomes greater than the value added to the widgets, start watching those paystubs carefully.

Weather and Climate

We’ve talked about weather and climate before. We’ve linked to data on the freeze/thaw cycles of one Wisconsin lake that has been studied for more than 150 years. While this year’s weather should not be mistaken for climate, in October we were ice fishing. In January we could be swimming, though it would be a bit chilly. October’s ice is gone. The lake is liquid again and the temperature is pushing 50. Since 1852, this lake has melted and re-frozen in the same season six times. Five of those have occurred since 1977.

The preview is old. Don’t try to tune in on the date mentioned.

In case you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, we’re around – we just had nothing to say for a while. Now we can’t ride a bike for a while, so…here we are! Comments welcome. Watching TV is going to get old fast, so let’s talk.

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Photo credit: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal 01/07/2020