19 hours hernia post-op

Surgery went well, as far as I know. The doctor was running 2 1/2 hours late, and I spent the last hour, as usual, in a line of ten gurneys in the pre-op holding area. These gurneys face a bank of windows opposite which stands a two-story cross (the sole evidence of Sacred Heart’s Christian ideals is that cross and a crucifix in every room).

Just before I was rolled to pre-op, Peggy read on my chart that I am 6’10”, so I passed the wait pondering the implications. As a young man, I would have thought it great to be a foot taller, but now I can see the downsides, things like beds being too short, chairs being too low, airline seats being too close, and so forth.

The surgeon wanted me to stay awake during surgery so he could have me cough when he was done. He apparently decided against this, because while I was still on the table trying to ask questions, he was calling a friend to make dinner arrangements. It was by now 5:30 p.m., and he had put in a full day, so I naturally accepted the priority of his dinner plans over my health issues (in all fairness, the tranquilizing agent might have caused me to forget being told to cough).

He did say that the lymph note he removed didn’t look ominous. I went home shit-faced on Percocet, but optimistic that I had dodged the cancer bullet. Bright and early this morning—7:30 in fact—a nurse from my internist’s office called to say that I needed to come in for blood work and a full-chest CAT scan. This was more than a bit of a surprise since the surgeon had said nothing to me about my x-rays being abnormal. The nurse had no explanation, so I asked if she might please find out and call back (or, better yet, have the doctor call). She called (no surprise there) with a confirmed diagnosis of chronic atelectasis (a word she couldn’t pronounce, but that Peggy could upon hearing the first four letters). Chronic atelectasis is a lung blockage that can be caused by any number of ominous diseases, one of which is asbestosis (I used to work around asbestos, and have long worried about it).

Other than the kind of shabby treatment that I have learned to expect from doctors, and the fact that my anesthesiologist was pitifully sick with a cold, everyone else who was involved in my care were terrific. From the young man who shaved my groin to my many nurses, I have only praise. As for the doctors, I can but reflect on the irony of the fact that they make far and away the most money, yet act as if they are doing me a favor by treating me at all.

The surgeon said I would hurt and swell more than most people (I don’t remember why), and I suspect he was right, but the pain meds are keeping the hurt down to a dull roar, and ice applied thirty minutes every hour is keeping the swelling manageable. My bandage is bloody, so even as I write Peggy is out getting a new dressing.

With this, as with my last surgery, the post-surgical pain is minor compared to the aggravation of trying to get information from nurses who don’t know and doctors who won’t talk to me.

That’s where things stand at 11:00 a.m., nineteen hours post-op.


We’re like the people in the Twin Towers just before the planes hit. We can do nice things for others; we can enjoy good food and good books; we can even create meaning in our lives, but the moment will come all of this is gone from us—or rather us from it. We will then exist in the same way we existed before we were born, which is to say as matter and energy. I ate sardines tonight. They used to be little fishes; now they are me. Soon they will be something else. Such is our existence. The personal is transitory. The eternal is indifferent.

The universe is incredibly dark, incredibly cold, and infinitely uncaring. This I worship because it is nobler than an anthropomorphic deity such as the petulant and vindictive god of the Bible. Yet, I could happily partake of mass or communion because they are like the word god in that they have so many different meanings that they lack meaning. It’s not the object of worship that matters but the impulse to worship. I refer to worship that comes from the inability to not worship. In this, I find purity.

France when you might be dying!

Peggy asked if I thought she would still go to France if I have cancer. I said she should consider the prognosis. Her response was that there was no way she would go. I was so surprised that I didn’t think to ask if she would stay home to support me, or because she would be too bummed to enjoy France. I wouldn’t want her here unless the prognosis was grim. I would miss her, but no more than I would miss her anyway; and I would be awfully sorry about all those nonrefundable reservations.

Peggy and I differ in that I am much more likely to make decisions based upon money. I love watermelon, yet I didn’t buy a single melon last year because the prices were too high. Peggy was horrified. “You’re worth the money,” she argued with generous intent, but with logic that reminded me of a television commercial. “What does my worth have to do with overspending on a watermelon?” I countered. “You could just as easily argue that I am worth saving the money.”

When I spend big, it’s on non-consumables like tools or that $1,750 bike I bought last year. I’m not cheap; I’m frugal. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember, and I have no desire to change. Peggy is also frugal, but not as much. If she weren’t frugal, we wouldn’t be together. She would be out spending like the average American, and I would be home packing my bags and separating our finances. She does have her indulgences, but we’ve worked it out so that I can live with them. Her skiing—like her trip to France—comes out of common funds. Her buttons are another matter because the expense is ongoing. When she began spending what I considered a lot of money, we agreed that, for every dollar she spent, I got one dollar for myself. Her “dollars” are displayed in cases; my dollars are in mutual funds.

She argues that the stock market could crash tomorrow and I could lose everything, whereas she has already gotten enormous enjoyment from her buttons, and is unlikely to lose them. She might be right, but then again, a fire or a flood could take her buttons while my funds would go on doing their compound interest thing. Maybe I don’t enjoy greenbacks as much as enjoys buttons, but they still give me a warm feeling. Money alone can’t buy security, but I never heard anyone say he felt more secure without it.

Peggy is away (reluctantly, due to my health) on her annual “Girls’ Weekend Out,” and I’m cleaning house in preparation for surgery. Hernia surgery is low risk, yet I had a friend who died on the table, so I’m doing a more thorough job than usual. Things like cleaning out closets, rearranging cabinets, putting contact paper in drawers, backing up computer files, updating lists, and getting rid of unneeded items. Peggy literally doesn’t know how to operate the washer and dryer, and she is all but computer illiterate, so I know I would be missed.

Yet, she would survive, I suppose, which is more than I might do if she died. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t crossed that bridge. I just know that I always hold suicide as an option, and that she does not. This is another of our differences.

Medical errors

The following is a weeks worth of medical errors—or at least medical system errors—and I haven’t even been to surgery yet.

1) My internist sent me to the surgeon with a form stating that I had a hiatal hernia instead of an inguinal hernia.

2) The surgeon’s office sent paperwork for me to fill out before my appointment. It was mailed Tuesday; my appointment was at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday.

3) The surgeon was a half hour late for my appointment, so Peggy and I took the liberty of reading my chart. Before the nurse took it from us, we discovered that I had been wrongly diagnosed with acid reflux and a missing left ball.

4) When I went for my pre-surgical appointment with the anesthesiologist, he said he had no idea why I was there. His office called the surgeon’s office for an order, but the surgeon’s staff was not yet answering their phone. Peggy went and got the information.

5) When I went to Oregon Imaging for my chest x-ray, I learned that I was scheduled to have it done at the Sacred Heart. I denied this. Since it is unusual for an outpatient to go to the hospital for an x-ray, Oregon Imaging called the hospital and learned that I had been admitted through the ER and was in room 683. The hospital was sure of this, and the lady at Oregon Imaging was equally sure that I was standing in front of her. I got my x-ray at Oregon Imaging.

6) After Oregon Imaging straightened out where I was to be x-rayed, they informed me that the surgeon had neglected to say why I was to be x-rayed. This meant that my HMO wouldn’t pay for the x-ray. I refused to pay for it myself so, after much discussion, they assured me that they had arranged things so that my HMO would pay for it.

7) After returning home, I called my HMO to be sure the surgeon’s office had contacted them to okay my surgery. My HMO was surprised to learn that I had a hernia, and they suggested that I “build a fire under the staff at the surgeon’s office”.

8) I called my internist to ask if my surgeon had called him to ask if he wanted to see me before my surgery (the surgeon had said he would call as soon as I left the office). The internist didn’t know I had been to a surgeon.

I see a surgeon about my hernia

I saw the surgeon today about my hernia, but he seemed more concerned about my swollen lymph nodes (Peggy asked me months ago to see a doctor about them). He seemed as eager to get me into surgery as I was to go, and he made special arrangements to reserve an operating room for Monday.

He suggested an open incision (instead of a laparoscopy), because it will enable him to attach the mesh better on such a thin person as I, and because I will run have less risk of chronic pain (a common side effect of hernia surgery).

I should be well enough by Peggy’s departure for France on February 14th to take care of my own needs, but I will be unable to exercise the dogs or wash their feet when they’ve been in the mud. The timing is no less bad for Peggy. I would not want her to stay home—unless the prognosis was grim—but I could hardly insist that she leave. Ironically, I have been worried for months about the trip, because it is, after all, a long way to France, and in winter at that. I think of all the things that could go wrong—closed airports, car wrecks, the flu, and a hundred more—and I know I will not rest easy until she is home.

Tomorrow is another doctor day. I see the anesthesiologist at 8:30, then have blood drawn, and then top the excitement off with an EKG. The surgeon said that the blood work will rule out some forms of cancer. Since I had expressed no great concern about having cancer when he said this, I concluded that he must be concerned.

Thoughts on diet

I’m down to 144 pounds—fourteen pounds lighter than at Thanksgiving. I only planned to drop to 150, but with my new diet the pounds keep disappearing.

I’ve inexplicably developed a taste for hot peppers. (Take it from one who knows: never touch your eyes or use the bathroom after handling a habanera.) I actually like to feel the heat climbing across my face and up my scalp. There’s definitely a high that goes with peppers.

More of Lowell’s advice about food…

Build your food pyramid atop a base of whole grains and beans.
Eat foods that are nutritious and low calorie.
Prepare your own meals from simple ingredients.
Learn to love cooking by cooking that which you love eating.
Eat only cold-pressed canola and extra virgin olive oil—even for things like piecrusts for which you normally use Crisco.
Reduce or eliminate meat, cheese, sugar, and butter.
A few times a week, eat fish that are low in mercury and rich in Omega-3s. Avoid farm-raised fish.
Don’t keep desserts or junk foods at home.
Remember that a little “sin” can undo a lot of hard won progress.
Drink only skim milk.
Dilute juice with water. Uncut juice will soon come to taste like sugar syrup.
Don’t buy foods that contain: enriched flour, artificial ingredients, added sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, or oils that you wouldn’t use at home.
Drink a glass of red wine a few times a week.
Buy un-processed foods, and observe how beautiful they are. Reflect that this is how food looked until a few decades ago.
Make every meal sacred. Instead of eating in front of the TV, eat against a backdrop of inspiring music.
Regard food as sacred. It will help you avoid foods that have been debased.
Avoid between meal snacks.
Consider fasting one day each week. It can be spiritually uplifting.
Consider only eating two meals a day.

By doing these things, I have come to prefer foods that are good for me. For a long time, I ate good foods at home, but pigged-out on junk at lodge. I eventually noticed that my favorite treats—like doughnuts—no longer tasted so good, so I would eat different kinds with the thought that the next one would taste better. I finally had to admit that I no longer crave doughnuts. I also decided that, if I pigged-out at lodge, and my weight was up the following day, I wouldn’t eat that day. This has helped me to at least moderate my consumption of treats that I still enjoy—like homemade lemon meringue pie.

People tell me that it is good to treat myself at times, which seems to imply that a treat is something unwholesome. My goal is to believe that a treat should taste good and be good for me. Inasmuch as I have tried to have the former without the latter, I have failed.

“Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice.” H.D. Thoreau

Letter to Guard

I had the following published in the Register Guard Monday.

“While browsing the new book section at the Eugene library last week, I came across the following instructional manuals: Street scene: how to draw graffiti-style and Moonshine! Recipes.... Whence this belief on the part of some librarians that they have a first amendment duty to instruct people in criminality? And what adolescent will continue to regard a crime as serious if the public library taught him how to do it? When I asked a librarian why they would carry such books, and was told that they carry books on every subject, I asked where I might find manuals on pimping, meth-making, and dogfighting. Clearly the library has some standard of discrimination.

"In a country that values free speech, some evil must be tolerated, but it need not be supported at public expense and endorsed by publicly owned institutions.”

John and Paul, and our trip to Lexington

I worked hard yesterday making final preparations for the Masons’ first meeting in the Odd Fellow Lodge. Tension with the building manager made everything more difficult. I’ve been hated before, but rarely by people I see all the time. I ask myself why it should be a problem. Well, maybe there’s no good reason. Maybe it will just take some getting used to. I did as I thought right, and I expected to be treated as I am being treated. I see this as a learning experience, the lesson being that it’s okay to be hated.

I’ve known people who fell overboard in this regard, militant atheists being a case in point. I had two friends in Mississippi who se bumper stickers made fun of Jesus. On one of our trips together, we drove to Lexington, Kentucky, for an American Atheist convention. I was sick with a cold and only wanted to lie in the back and sleep, but I kept being awakened by horns honking and people screaming profanities. John and Paul were laughing their heads off, while I was wondering if I would live to get home. You might think that they were bad-asses, but they were anything but. John was 68 and weighed 450 pounds; Paul was 85 and hardly weighed 120; and neither was armed with anything.

In Lexington, I asked Robin (Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s granddaughter how she could survive having such hatred directed at her. She said she had learned to not take it personally.

It was meant personally, but Robin had the right idea. Regarding vicious people as if they were vicious dogs, and dealing with them matter of factly instead of hatefully is surely the best policy. This might be what’s hard for me. What I want to do is to let the building manager have it with both barrels, but I’m determined to conduct myself with dignity, because I know I would only make a bad situation worse. Why stomp on what’s already broken?

The meeting goes against me. We are not a rational species but a species that uses rationality.

The trustees’ meeting went against me, its purpose not to address the issues but to attack me personally. Being a pessimist, I was prepared for the worst, and the worst was what I got—yelling, wild accusations, red faces, popped eyes, quivering lips, trembling hands, faces contorted with rage, and people leaning forward as if to leap at my throat. Through it all, I remained calm. At one point, I even laughed aloud at the absurdity of it all.

If a person feels superior to his fellows, he risks being blinded to their virtues. Yet, how hard it is to not wall others up within the confines of a small and remote cell in my mind, a cell with a sign over the door that reads “worthless.” For example, when I was locking my bike up in front of the library yesterday I overheard the following: “Man, I was so fucking wasted that I fucking didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.” This level of exchange is commonplace. In the library’s new book section, I came across how-to books on graffiti and moonshine.

I know that my fellow trustees, the hangers-on in front of the library, and those librarians who consider it their First Amendment duty to instruct adolescents in criminality; are members of my species. I know that somewhere within them a light shines that is akin to my own. Yet, I am challenged to remain open to that light—it being so dim—and the fact that I am able to do so at all comes through considerable struggle. I want to see what is instead of seeing merely the labels I have placed upon what is. To feel that I know, really know, a thing is to close myself off from new information about it. The extent to which I am able to maintain objectivity is the extent to which reason reigns over feeling as my guiding principal.

But look at which of the two rules the world. Most of my fellow trustees were only too glad to give themselves over to anger. They even felt entitled to their anger because, as they saw it, I MADE them angry. Witness the slavery implicit within this conclusion. Look at the teenage drunks and druggies in front of the library. Where is the clear thinking that rules their lives? They too are slaves to feeling. School, society, and family being flawed, they feel justified in devoting their lives to drugs and crime. Look at how most people relate to food or sex. Is a “super-sized burger, Coke, and fries” a rational choice for lunch? Is losing your family—or your presidency—for a toss in the sack reasonable?

We are not a rational species but rather a species that sometimes uses rationality to achieve goals that were emotionally determined. There is no ridding ourselves of emotion as a central force in our lives, but we need to understand that emotions can become to our lives what cataracts are to our vision, and that rationality is the only antidote. We get into trouble when, instead of striving for congruence between feeling and reason, we embrace feeling and abandon reason. Our dilemma is that we often don’t know we are doing this. Indeed, in the absence of intelligence and maturity (maturity of character not years) we are doomed to fail much of the time. Just as a toddler trips when walking, we trip when we try to enthrone reason as our guiding principal.

And, if we live a long, long time, there is every chance that senility will rob us of whatever measure of reason we have managed to achieve. But our certain dissolution is of no consequence to us in the present. It’s as if life is saying, “You will lose everything anyway, but for today you can give yourself to the tutelage of reason, or you can surrender yourself a slave to feeling—you decide.” Look at the world and witness the response.

The cost of harmony

I am in wonder that there is so much violence in the world, as it has been my experience that people will tolerate a great deal before they strenuously object to it—much less kill over it.

Two members of one of my lodges have clearly shown the desire to take control of the lodge. I began to suspect this months ago, but said nothing because tolerance of bad behavior is the norm, which is to say that we get along by overlooking one another’s sins, both venial and cardinal. However, their particular behavior became so egregious that I tried to address it in lodge. They misused their power to silence me, so I wrote a letter to everyone who regularly attends lodge. I mailed that letter Saturday, and spent the weekend contemplating the effect of the bomb that I had sent on its way.

I go to lodge tomorrow and also to the trustee’s meeting that precedes lodge. I dread both so much that I can hardly get them off my mind. I have already received an angry phone call from the one lodge member who does more than anyone else to set the tone for avoiding disharmony at all costs. Our exchange put me in mind of children who were molested by relatives and later bring verifiable accusations against their molesters. Oftentimes, it is not the molester who is ostracized, but the victim who “made trouble” by bringing the molestation into the open.

This is an example of why I have trouble explaining the level of violence in the world. One key to the dilemma might be that proportionately more governments commit violence against other governments than do individuals against other individuals; and I should think that everyone has witnessed instances of smaller groups treating a person worse than the individuals within those groups would have done. Such could be my lodge’s response toward me. If so, I won’t be surprised.

Even my caller agreed with the facts I related, my letter being largely a listing of egregious actions followed by an appeal for the lodge to retake control. Yet retaking control will require aggressive action, and it might be easier to simply blame me for creating disharmony.

Such considerations are among those that prevent me from trusting any group. People like to think that groups are definable, but the larger the group, the less it can be contained within a definition. The Freemasons, the Catholic Church, and the U.S. government, for example, have all done so much good and so much evil that it is difficult to tell which is weightier. Whether a given person sees these institutions as a curse or a salvation depends upon who he is and where and when he is alive. The important points are that groups are not human beings; they have more power than human beings; and they exceed our individual capability to rationalize.

But how am I to behave tomorrow? First, I will not defend my letter. I started it a month ago, gave it serious deliberation, made it as fair and accurate as possible, and won’t, therefore, back down from any of it. Second, I will enter the lodge more as an observer than a participant, i.e. from a standpoint of emotional neutrality rather than reactivity. Furthermore, I will re-read parts of Marcus Aurelius.

“When you feel that you simply cannot live if a person or a group of people disapproves of you, remind yourself of what kind of people they are. Ponder their limited intelligence, their fickle sentiments, their often base motives, and reflect upon how little their opinion is worth” (my paraphrase).