Reflections that make having a broken back, a banged-up thumb, and a disturbing kidney cyst seem almost inconsequential.

Two thumbs before the right one was drained. 

It’s funny how, on an ordinary day, not one person out of a million feels grateful for having a right thumb, but if a doctor tells you might lose yours, and then you respond so well to treatment that he tells you that you won’t, it really makes you think about how dependent you are on that thumb and how much you would miss it if it had to be cut off. Other things that I am grateful for...

Peggy. I had rather have a broken back and be with Peggy than to be healthy in every cell but be without her. What I have been through of late has been much harder emotionally for her than for me, yet she is the one who has to carry the burden of caring for a husband who can no longer attend to many of his own basic needs. Now, another job has been added to her list, that of preparing soak water for my thumb every six hours and, the soak being done, replacing the old dressing, a process that causes me so much pain that it makes her queasy to do it.

Walt. He spent six hours on each of two snowy days taking me to three doctors, two drugstores, one orthotics supplier, an imaging center, and maybe other places for all that I can remember. Without him, I don’t know what I would have done. Other people would have wanted to help, but he had that needed combination of studded tires, excellent driving skills, a completely open schedule, and the ability to make a person feel well taken care of in his presence.

After being drained and having dead tissue removed    
Brewsky. One of his contributions has been to greet me at the door after my many medical appointments. Another is to keep me immensely touched and continually entertained with a greater range of facial expressions than I ever imagined possible for any creature, much less have had the pleasure to experience. He exemplifies what it means to be fully present, completely open, and utterly without defenses. If a cat can be called an angel, then Brewsky is an angel.

My plants. Every time fear and despair threaten to crowd in, my plants shove them right back out. I have long enjoyed potted plants, but once I am over this, they’re going to see how good their lives can get because I realized within a day of breaking my back that my 17 indoor plants were to be among my chief allies in healing. I would move every one of them into my bedroom right now if I had a suitable place for them, and making a suitable place is what I intend to do as soon as I can, only I look forward to having a lot more plants than seventeen.

Having a house that I love. Many a time as I worked on it over the past 23 years, I would envision a day when I was too old to work, and I would think about what a comfort my earlier work would someday bring me. Now that day has come, through accident rather than age, and I am grateful for all that I did to make this house what Peggy and I wanted it to be.

Medical care. It's criminally expensive, yet I can afford it; it's pretty good here; and it's also close to home. I've thought a good bit about what a different end this week might have come to had I been unable to get to a hand specialist within an hour of being referred because that's how close I came to losing that thumb, and I could have lost far more than a thumb--my implanted left shoulder joint, for example.

I had rather that any bad thing that can happen to a person happen to me rather than to Peggy. I would have once expected her to feel the same--and maybe she does for all I know--but I've lost all interest in such things because I know that whatever either of us gives, it will be 100% of what we have to give, and for that I am grateful. We share a level of trust and commitment that I would guess is pretty rare, yet I can't imagine how people get by without it.

Should certain women be removed from the gene pool due to toilet seat preferences?

But first, an update on my many travails.

I saw the surgical neurologist (Chris) yesterday and found him unsympathetic and condescending (i.e. a typical doctor), although he seemed competent enough. He prescribed a brace (for which I'm being fitted in the photo), which he wanted me to start wearing ASAP. This meant that I had to initiate many calls to insurance to get the brace approved in three hours instead of the usual three days (one can NEVER simply sit back and assume that everything which must be done will be done, because it most certainly will not). Chris also told me to come back in a week, said that surgery might turn out to be necessary despite the brace (due to some “troubling aspects of the fracture”), and gave me a brief lecture on the safe use of ladders. In other news:

I learned from looking at the doctor's computer while he was out of the room that not only do I have a humongous cyst on my left kidney (6 cm by 7 cm), I have ten mysterious growths on my liver.

Peggy knocked a large mug of coffee off her bedside table and onto her cat.

The snow can’t melt because the weather just keeps getting colder—down to -7F, in fact, which is by far the coldest I’ve seen it during my 27 years here. Eugene is not a town that handles snow well either in terms of street clearing or the driving skills of its motorists.

I broke my thumb while using walls and doors to brace myself as I made my way through the house. The disaster occurred when I pulled against a doorknob with my left hand, before removing my right thumb from between the door and the jamb on the hinge side. The fingernail is blackish-blue, and the rest of the thumb is feverishly-red, grotesquely swollen, looks out of alignment, and hurts like the dickens, especially when I’m trying to sleep.

We can neither open nor lock the garage door, and Peggy won't allow me on a ladder to remedy the problem.

The kitchen sink stopped up night before last, the toilet last night. I WILL fix these things today.

Now, on to my question, which I’m especially wondering about at the moment because I cant bend forward. To wit, in my experience, most women think men should lower the toilet seat upon leaving a restroom, and even go so far as to claim that men who don’t lower the seat are jerks. Because of this, and because we live in an age of unisex toilets, I always lower toilet seats, or at least I did prior to breaking my back eleven days ago. I never considered this a reasonable expectation on the part of women, but I did it nonetheless because it wasn’t important enough of an issue to me that I was willing to risk having some woman come screaming out of a bathroom throwing rocks and fecal matter my way because I neglected to lower a toilet seat. My question is this, why do women think this way? Wouldn’t it make just as much sense for men to insist that women raise toilet seats, even if they didn’t have a clue whether the next person who uses the toilet would want it raised? I believe that toilet seat positioning should be the responsibility of the current occupant, and with this in mind, I hereby declare my intent to proceed in consistence with my values even when my back is well, so if you think I’m wrong, here is your chance to straighten me out.

I’m now going to share with you something that I’ve never told anyone. I don’t know why this is, but Peggy sometimes leaves the toilet seat up, but only after I’ve gone to bed for the night, which means that I have, on occasion, myself fallen into the goddamn toilet because I didn’t elect to turn the light on at 3:00 a.m., blinding myself and making it harder to get back to sleep. While Ive never actually heard giggles coming from Peggy’s bed when I fell in, I always suspicioned them, and the fact that she always laughed like a hyena when confronted with my sad story at the breakfast table didn’t allay my suspicions. When I asked her why she would do such a dastardly thing, she just said she must have left it up when she cleaned the toilet, a response that I considered more than a little lame, especially in light of the fact that she never fell into her little toilet mines. Having finally concluded once and for always that she was not to be trusted, I finally started putting my hand out before sitting to be sure there was something there to to sit upon. It’s a sorry state of suspicion for a woman like herself to impose upon a decent, hardworking, god-fearing man like myself, but such is life.


Life is darkly funny, and I do love black humor, so at least there’s that. For example, I have a patio that’s covered by a large canopy (a canopy is basically a thousand dollar tarp), and when it snows, I have to rake the snow off the canopy while standing on a ladder part of the time and on the roof of the house part of the time. When I stand on the house part I'm within inches of a high voltage line, but I’ve never been one to avoid looking death in the eye while standing on an icy roof, especially where the welfare of a canopy is concerned. Since it rarely snows more than an inch or two here, and during some winters not even that much, I don’t give my canopy much thought, but as I write this, it's covered by six inches of snow, and snow is continuing to fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if the framing itself collapses, and I find that darkly funny. Here are some other things that strike me undesirable, yet funny enough once I've had a snootful of thing or another.

It rarely gets below 25-degrees F. here even in the dead of winter, so I don't give frozen pipes much thought either, but the daytime highs lately have been near freezing, and the forecast low for the next two nights is 8-degrees. This means that I need to get my crawlspace vent covers down from the attic, and install them over the foundation vents, but my odds of doing it aren't looking good.

...The toilet is running. I can hear it cutting on-and-off as I write, but I can do nothing to fix it... 

Last night, Peggy moved 30 cans of house paint, 20 gallons of juice, and four cases of soymilk from the garage to the laundry room to keep it from freezing. The laundry room is also crowded with dirty laundry, but neither Peggy nor the Queen of England know how to run a washing machine, and I'm still having trouble negotiating the step between the laundry room and kitchen (the one I had so much trouble crawling up last Saturday).

Peggy was so worried yesterday that she called the neurologist that I’m supposed to see on Monday. Here, in my part of America anyway, it’s extremely unusual for a doctor to talk to a patient unless said patient is in the doctor’s office where he or she can be billed $30 a minute, so when I said “she called the neurologist,” what I meant was that she called the neurologist’s staff. However, the switchboard operator mistakenly transferred her to the CEO, so Peggy found herself talking to a man who didn’t say who he was but who sounded very surprised to hear from her. He repeatedly tried to transfer her back to the switchboard, but every time he hung-up, his own phone would ring again, and Peggy would still be on it, so he finally told her who he was and asked how he could help. She described my situation in some detail, and ended by saying, “My husband is in a lot of pain, and he needs to talk to someone before Monday about how to: manage the pain, avoid the constant threat of his entire back cramping, and protect his back from further injury,” to which the CEO responded, “All our patients are in a lot of pain, but I’ll see what I can do.” A few hours later, we got a personal call from the doctor I’m supposed to see on Monday. I was out having an MRI when he called, so he left a message saying he would call back this morning, but he didn't.

I was both astounded and pissy to hear the voice of a genuine doctor coming from my own little answering machine. Unless you’re a VIP (which I had apparently become because of a misdirected phone call), doctors give almost nothing of themselves unless it’s a billable event, and talking to a patient on the phone is not a billable event. If a patient isn’t okay with this, he must be reminded—in this case by a CEO who would not himself have to wait for a billable event—that being ignored by one’s doctor is unavoidable, and that it is unreasonable for one person to complain about it when so many other people are content to suffer in silence. Sure, plumbers and car mechanics might talk to a person off-the-clock, but medical doctors are too well-paid and highly regarded to waste time doing anything for free, that is unless it’s for a VIP, which I now am due to an inept switchboard operator who is probably out looking for a new job.

My internist of twenty years won’t talk on the phone either, but he will write a prescription, and I just love that about him. My most recent prescription was for Fentanyl, a painkiller 100 times stronger than morphine. My 50-microgram dose of Fentanyl is the equivalent of 100 milligrams of oxycodone (another drug for severe pain) per day. I never take more than 30 mgs of oxycodone a day, but I take it all at once, so I think I should survive the Fentanyl, but I’m not completely free of concern because Fentanyl has a nasty reputation for killing people, even wonderful people like myself who deserve to live long lives and who go to great pains to take their dangerous drugs exactly as prescribed. Giving Fentanyl to a person in pain is like giving a nuclear bomb to Slim Pickens, and all I have to say about that is thank the Good Lord for nuclear bombs because I had much rather be incinerated instantly by a nuke than to be hacked to death slowly by a sword. 

I would love to take a nap, but the neurologist did say that he would call again, plus my internist’s staff is supposed to let me know if the thing on my left kidney is a cyst, a hematoma, or a tumor, and I’m just nosey enough to want to find out. 

As I was finishing this up, somebody named Corey called from the internist’s office called to tell me that the growth on my left kidney is "a very large cyst that might need to come out." I asked if it could be malignant, but he didn’t know. I asked what caused it, but he didn’t know. I asked what would happen if I didn't want to cut it out, but he didn’t know. That’s all I know, that and the fact that it's not a tumor.

Peggy is making snow ice cream (snow plus condensed milk), so I'm outta here.