Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm a Gadget Guy

One of the things I like to do is surf the electronic store web sites and dream of things that would be neat to have. (OK, OK, so I lust in my heart for them – and I know that statement got Jimmy Carter in trouble. See Playboy interview 1976.)

If you are out there and are wondering what to get me for Christmas, here is my wish list (my wife and kids sometimes read my blog):

1. GPS
I need this driving aid and I really wish I had it when I was still working and traveling all around the state. I need a GPS. Yes, I said NEED. Several reasons:
* I am old and old people get lost.
* I am a guy and guys don’t ask for directions.
* Cheryl gets mad when I pull up to someone on her side of the car and I tell her to ask for directions.
* I have chemo brain and, and, and…darn, I forget why else.

After much research and reading lots of reviews, I have narrowed it down to a Garmin Nuvi, but I still haven’t decided on the model number. I know I want, er, need wide screen, touch screen, spoken directions and spoken street names. But, do I want/need a model that also has traffic updates? Bluetooth wireless for hands-free phone calling? FM transmitter? Garmin Locate™ (marks position when removed from windshield mount so you can take it with you and then find your car in a mall parking lot? Auto-sort multiple destinations for most efficient route? MSN Direct for theater times, etc.? Voice commands? Garmin’s “Where AM I?” which finds the closest hospitals, police & gas stations? (I guess that is so you can gas up before heading to the hospital with a police escort.) MP3 player? Audio book player? Picture viewer? Some of these features might be nice to have, but why do I need to look at pictures while I am driving? Isn’t that kind of dangerous? Strangely, almost all of their models have this feature.

Actually, I just need to get from point A to point B without getting lost. It reminds me of my phone. It does all kinds of stuff, but I only use it to make phone calls. That is why it is called a PHONE! I disabled texting and the Internet. Why surf the internet on a one inch screen? I couldn't see it anyway. Of course this goes against my normal preferences because I usually like all the bells and whistles on my gadgets. But I also don’t like paying extra on an ongoing monthly basis for all those features.

The last two times we were in New York, we used my brother-in-law, Bill’s automobile and he had a Garmin Nuvi and we fell in love with it. We named the GPS “Thelma” because of the sultry female voice that guided us on our journeys. Now one time Thelma done did us wrong! We were coming back late at night on a trip of about 60 miles or so and I was blindly following Thelma’s directions. Whenever she said turn right or left, I did. We were on a semi-familiar road and Thelma said, “Turn left,” I did. Cheryl said she was pretty sure we should keep going straight, but I trusted Thelma. Well, the road quickly became narrow. After a couple more turns, there was snow. A rabbit ran across in front of us. Then a fox. Then a herd of deer. Cheryl thought she saw an armadillo but I knew that couldn’t be. I think it was an opossum. Or maybe a longhorn. I don’t know. I think I was hallucinating by then. Then the pavement disappeared and we were on rutted dirt, then we passed through a farmer’s yard, between his house and the barn. I thought we had been transported to rural Germany. Unfortunately the car was warning us we were very low on fuel. We had no cell phone service. I started talking and pleading with Thelma. Before we completely ran out of roadway (and gas), we came back on to the highway we had originally been on. When we first turned, Cheryl saw the name of the road we turned on to. Texas Valley Road. Thelma must have felt we were a little homesick in New York and needed a taste of Texas. I had to explain to Thelma that we live in a very metropolitan area of Texas and to stop doing us favors.


I want a 40 or 42 inch thin bezel LCD High Definition TV, preferably the new Sony W or Z series with the 120 Hz refresh rate, but the Samsung model is good too. I would go for larger, but our built in bookshelf with entertainment center will only accommodate a set’s frame that is 40 inches wide at the most. Now I could put a 60 inch TV over the fireplace, but it wouldn’t look good with the huge Christmas wreath hanging in front of the screen every year. I first thought I wanted a Plasma set, but the TV room has lots of windows and a Plasma TV has a very reflective screen. Since I watch TV during the day, I need a non-reflective TV screen. If you find a good deal on Plasma, I wouldn’t send it back.

3. Desktop Computer

I could use a new computer as I still haven’t replaced my desk top that is basically dead. Since I am lusting for…uh, dreaming of the HDTV, I might as well go with the multimedia desktop with a powerful quad-core processor, one terabyte hard drive, 6 to 8 GB RAM, powerful graphics card, TV tuner with DVR and remote control, wireless b/g/n, and a BlueRay DVD/CD write drive. It also needs a wireless keyboard and mouse so I can hook it all up to my new HDTV and sit in my recliner and surf the net or play my high def BlueRay movie collection which I also would need for Christmas. But as long as you are getting this for me, you might as well throw in a 24 inch high def monitor to put on my computer desk in the front room for those times I want to take the desktop back in there and just do serious computing. If you need the HP model numbers for these before you go shopping, let me know and I can give them to you.

4. Digital Camera

Next, I need a new digital camera. The one I have is very old, but takes very good pictures. The plastic hinge of the battery door is breaking and is barely hanging on. Once it totally breaks, it won’t operate because there is some connection that gets broken when the door latch is moved to open. However, the main problem now is that it got wet. When we came back from New York, I had it in my carry on bag in the side mesh pocket. I set the bag on the floor in our bedroom and it sat there for several days. Unfortunately, Snickers, my male dog, has a nasty habit of sometimes marking items that are sitting on the floor that are not normally there. Yep, he marked it. Yep, he marked it on the mesh pocket side of the bag. Yep, he got my camera. I have to teach him to mark with a pencil only. My computer magazine rates a Cannon as top choice in the price range I am looking. My current camera is a Cannon so I think I will stick with that brand.

5. Trifocals

Finally, even though it is not a tech gadget, this evening I discovered I really do need new glasses. When I checked the description of tonight’s CSI Miami, I read it twice and still read the same thing: “…a sausage killer runs rampant in Miami.” Eventually I figured out it was a “savage killer.” Much more exciting. Maybe tomorrow I’ll make my own appointment for an eye exam and the new spectacles. Then I can reactivate the Internet on my cell phone.

At Christmas I will still be happy with my new tie, new handkerchiefs, and new aftershave from my grandkids. I will continue to lust in my heart for my tech gadgets and ask for forgiveness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Day in the Treatment Room

Yesterday was my IVIg infusion which I get in the chemotherapy room at my oncologist’s office. I am almost always the first one there and the last one to leave as it takes seven to eight hours to drip the medication into me. The actual infusion is quite routine. I begin with two Tylenol tablets followed by a bag of liquid Benadryl. By the time that finishes I have quite a “buzz” going and I definitely could not get behind the wheel of a car and be safe. Of course, my wife and kids may argue that is not that far off from my normal state of driving lately. I don’t know what they are talking about. It is the other crazy drivers on the road…but that is a topic for another blog entry someday. The Benadryl also gives me some very annoying restless leg/restless foot syndrome for and hour or two.

After I get high, I then get a bag of my “friend” – NOT – the steroid Solumederol (methylprednisolone). This stuff causes my blood sugar to go very high, causes me to retain fluids, makes me VERY moody, and causes sleeplessness. In fact, I was still awake when Cheryl got up to go to work this morning. I then went in and laid down for a little while until I had to get Jimmy up for school and I have been up ever since.

After the steroid, I finally begin the IVIg infusions. Yesterday it was six bottles and that is what takes so long. They start it slowly to make sure I don’t have any reactions to it and then after an hour or so it gets bumped up to normal speed, but still slow. IVIg is a human blood product. Also called intravenous immunoglobulin, intravenous gamma globulin, it is treatment in which blood proteins or antibodies, taken from many donors, temporarily replaces the antibodies (immunoglobulins) that my own body has lost due to my disease. This keeps me from getting constant infections like I was getting last year before I started this therapy. Repeat infusions are required to maintain adequate levels. I am on a four to six week cycle and it depends on my monthly blood test results as to when I actually get it. I was scheduled for last week, but this time my levels held pretty well and I was able to delay it for one week. It is a very costly treatment because it can take up to 10,000 blood donors to make one treatment! For many people, the high cost of treatment is often prohibitive as not all insurance companies pay for this therapy. I have only seen the bill for the first time I got the treatment and that bill was over $17,000! That is $200,000 a year! And I will have to have this the rest of my life! I am so blessed that I only pay my co-pay. A young man in my church also needs IVIg but for a different disease problem and he has to pay $500 as his share for each treatment. There have been times in recent years when it has been in very short supply and nearly impossible to get. As the nurse said yesterday, if people ask what they can do to help, tell them to donate blood. I would encourage everyone who is able, to give the gift of life and donate blood on a regular basis.

The day goes by pretty quickly as I nap off and on due to the Benadryl, I eat my lunch that I prepared at home before I left, and if I am lucky, I have some wonderful conversations with some of the other folks who occupy the other chairs during the day. If not, it is a period of time I call “liquid meditation.” A term coined by some good folks over on the CLL Christian friend’s site.

This is the part of the day that is not routine – meeting the different people going through cancer treatment. Over the years I have been going there, first for eight months of chemotherapy and now a year of IVIg treatments, amazingly I very rarely see the same people. It is a fairly small room with six reclining chemotherapy chairs in the main part of the room (three on each side of the room) and two more over in a little alcove. Each chair has a pillow and blankets are available as most of us get cold with all the liquids pumped into our veins. There is a TV that is available in an upper cabinet on the opposite wall from the windows, but in all the times I have been there, it has only been on once. I guess not too many folks are interested in watching a soap opera when toxic chemicals are being pumped into their bodies and they are living in their own real-life soap opera.

Because I am there all day, I take the chair to the far side by the window so I am out of the way, but I can still talk to anyone so inclined. I have had some amazing conversations with folks. Some who are scared to death, some who are so very sick and many who have amazed me with their courage and sunny outlook on life. There have been a few sourpusses too, but I certainly can’t blame them under the circumstances. Last month there was a fellow across from me who read his Bible the whole time and I made several attempts to start a conversation to no avail. There have been some very tragic cases and folks I promised to pray for. Several months ago there was a lady with a cancer that had returned and she had three small children under eight years old. She was on a last ditch attempt at an experimental chemotherapy, but there really wasn’t much hope as it had spread throughout her body. She was only given a couple of months. It brought tears to my eyes and it still does. I still think of her quite often.

Yesterday, most folks who passed through were particularly non-talkative. The lady who came in right after me took the chair directly across from me and it was interesting to watch her set up her space. She has obviously been undergoing chemo for some time as she had lost most of her hair. She was wearing pink shoes (don’t know what you call them, but the rubber type with holes in them) and she had multiple pink ribbons attached, so I assume she has breast cancer. She draped the chair in a beautiful blanket that had angels embroidered all over it. Then on the two arm tables she stacked some books, a portable DVD player, some drinks, an iPod, and a few other things I couldn’t tell what they were. She took a very long time setting it all up and she kept her back to me the entire time. She then crawled into the chair, put on her headphones for the iPod and closed her eyes. Very clearly she was not interested in any conversation. In fact, she barely spoke to the nurses hooking her up to her meds, never made eye contact with me, and never touched any of the multitudes of things she brought with her, other than the iPod. I think she would have been interesting to talk to, but I certainly did not want to invade her space as she was sending very strong signals that she wanted to be left alone. I kept looking for an opening because I thought perhaps she was the person in the room that most needed some human interaction.

Two ladies started talking just before leaving. Both had cancers that had recurred and had now spread. Both seemed to have great attitudes. The one lady who was the most upbeat had cancer that had spread everywhere, from her colon to her skull. So why was she upbeat? A year and ten months ago she had been given one year to live. She said she knew she was going to make it at least to the two year point and her goal was to get to three. With her sunny attitude I think she will, too.

After my lunch, I read a little and then got very sleepy. All the chairs were full, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open and most others were sleeping too. When I awoke, the room was empty except for a lady who was in the chair next to me who wasn’t there when I fell asleep. She was getting ready to leave. She told me she enjoyed hearing me snore. I was quite embarrassed and apologized and told her it looked like I had chased everyone else away with my snoring. She said, “oh no, I enjoyed it. I haven’t had anyone snoring next to me for several years.” I knew there was a story there, but she was on the way out of the room and I was alone to finish up my treatment.

And so another day of treatment passed. So many folks, so many stories to tell. I just wish I could have heard them all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Catching Up - Misc. Stuff

I don't know where the time goes. I guess my puttering around just gets slower and slower. Sorry I have only had one post in nearly two months. I have written several -- in my head -- but they never made it to the Blog. Remember two posts ago I hired an Ex-Secret Service Agent to guard my lungs? Well now I know why he was an ex-agent. He was over zealous and wouldn't let me get into my own blog! Fortunately, he was called back to Washington after the election and I am now free to blog and ramble as before.

What happened in October? Much.

On the health front, I have been pretty stable again except my IGg levels mysteriously crashed lower than they have ever gone before -- into the lower 200's. So I was called in to have my IVIg infusion early. On the other hand, my platelets soared into the normal range. Very strange. (Last week's blood test, the platelets only came down to slightly under normal and my IGg held very well and I was able to delay this month's infusion until next week! My platelets have bounced around in the 90's and low 100's for a long time, so I don't know what they are doing. I do know that IVIg can raise platelets for some folks, so I guess that is what is happening now. Why it took almost a year, I don't know, but I will take it. White count and lymphocyte count slowly climbing, but that is normal with this disease. The good news is the absolute lymphocyte count isn't quite doubling in a six month period. If it was, that would be an indication for starting chemo again.

Much of October was taken up getting the house ready to have it appraised. We applied for a home equity loan and we were approved in a matter of a couple of hours, but then we had to have the house appraised to see how much they could loan us. In these tough times, it didn't appraise for as much as we would have liked, but the appraiser said he gave us the top amount he could because our house was in fantastic condition and we are the tops in our area.

Also in October, we participated in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk. Our family team raised almost $3,000. This year we had a lady and her son walking with us. She is fairly newly diagnosed with CLL and I met her on-line. She is a member of both the cllforum and the cllcfriends site. She also lives very close to us! It was a great evening and I enjoyed getting to know her as we walked with our lit balloons.
Why did we have our home appraised? We would like to buy a small cottage or trailer on lakefront or lake access property in upstate NY so we can spend the summers there and be close to our extended families. Cheryl and I left there in 1967 when I joined the Air Force and we don't get back often enough to visit. We are all getting older and we want to reconnect while we still can.

My older brother, Jim and his wife, Barb, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party on November 1st and Cheryl and I flew up and surprised them. Their kids put on a terrific tribute with an open house at the church on Saturday afternoon and a very nice dinner that night. We were so glad we could make it. My mom had just turned 94 the week before and my other brothers were all there. It was a great time.

It was a fast trip and we combined it with looking at several lake properties scattered from the edge of the Adirondack Park, to the Finger Lakes region, to the Norwich area, to the Whitney Point area. Cheryl's brother, Bill, lent us his car and we put a lot of miles running around the state in four days. We quickly discovered we have champagne taste but we are on a Kool-Aid budget. Nevertheless, we have three possibilities and we are currently waiting for estimates on repairs for our number one choice. (It needs foundation leveling.) My real number one choice was ruled out because the taxes are too high. $3200 in taxes for only three months a year use is way too much. (The price is about 1/3 or our current home, but the taxes are almost the same!) But the lake was by far the prettiest and it had a wonderful setting. Of course it also needed some fixing up. The corner of the cabin can be seen on the right in this picture. The lake was crystal clear and fairly deep off the end of the dock. It came furnished and included a boat. Sigh. Our new number one choice is a very pretty lot right on the lake, but the lake is shallow there and not that pretty as we would have to clear out lilly pads. This also comes mostly furnished. There is a shed out of the picture to the right. It is close to an acre of land. The second picture is looking out the larger window you can see in this first picture.Number two choice is a large double lot across the lake road from a prettier lake. It has an older trailer and has deeded access to the lake, right across the road. We would eventually bring in a newer trailer and use the older one as a "bunk house." However, we can't hook both up to the septic tank, so we would have to add a holding tank or something. You can see it is a large lot in front and goes another 100 feet behind it. Lots of mowing. Same car in both pictures. The deeded access is in the second picture by the tree stump.The third choice is a home/cabin that is in great shape, back at the shallow lake on a much smaller lot. Not much space between the cabin and the water. No work would have to be done to the structure, other than adding a dock, but the price is much too high (and above our budget) compared to surrounding places. We might put a lower offer in on that and see if it was accepted. If it is to be, it will be.

When we left Texas, the temperature was in the 80's. When we got to New York, we were greeted with snow on the ground. The first cabin we saw (the one I really would like) was down a long steep drive and we couldn't drive down because of the snow. We walked through the nine inches of snow, but Cheryl only had loafers with her. Her feet got very, very cold. At her sister's home where we stayed two nights, there had been a foot and a half of snow and a lot of it stayed the whole time we were there. When we returned to Texas, the temperature was 90 the next day. And that is why we love the winter down here!

Jimmy, our bi-polar grandson who lives with us during school, is doing great this year. He had a very rough Spring after a growth spurt and his medications got out of wack. He was suspended from school several times and we weren't sure we could do it again this year. This summer things got under control and we are quite proud of what he is doing and how hard he is trying -- not a single incident and he bends over backwards to do the right thing. He is 13, taller than I am, weighs about 190 pounds, has been shaving since he was 12, and is a fierce football player on offense. They lost the district championship game this week by one touchdown. He played so very hard the entire game.

Jonathan, turned 14 in October and Holly turned 11. It is hard to believe how quickly they are growing up. Cheryl and I attended both of their schools this past Tuesday, Veterans' Day, for special ceremonies they had honoring veterans. As Holly put it, I was invited because I am a "veterinarian" and I could wear my "costume" if I wanted! HA!
Our newest grandson, Gavin, turned five months last week. I have done quite a bit of babysitting for him and a little bit of traveling with them to babysit while his Mom conducts training. We have bonded. I will leave you with a couple of professional pictures she had taken. I think he may have a career as a model.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What a Country!

I have been watching the TV with great interest this evening and I have had a ringside seat to history being made. How many other countries in this world can have such a peaceful transition of power amongst major parties? Senator McCain's concession speech was one of the most gracious speeches I have heard. I believe that was the real John McCain on display this evening and perhaps the outcome would have been different if he had more consistently come across that way during the campaign. The words of President Bush, in his congratulatory call to Senator Obama, were also very gracious, promising a smooth transition. Finally Senator Obama's speech tonight had kind words of praise for Senator McCain and his outstanding service and sacrifice for our country over many, many years. Whether the candidate you supported won or lost, you have to respect and admire the peaceful process and the way our democracy works.

What now? I don't know about you, but I am so very tired of the deep division between the parties that has been displayed over the past sixteen years. There is very little bi-partisanship displayed and that is the only way we can have real progress. I still have hope because I saw the way our country came together and put aside all differences after 9-11, if only for a relatively short time. The unity displayed at the time was the true America. Can we achieve that on a regular basis? Perhaps not, but I don't think we need to give up on that goal and we can do better. (I also think President Bush blew a fantastic opportunity to bring lasting unity to the country and a working relationship between the parties right after 9-11 -- my opinion.)

What can we as individuals do? We can pray. We must pray for our leaders. We must pray for God's guidance. We must work for unity without compromising our deeply held values. Did I agree with all that either candidate stood for? Absolutely not. Do I need to support the man elected, whether I voted for him or not? I believe I must. Why? For one thing, Barack Obama will be my president. I am an American and he will be my President and I must pray for him and lift him up every day asking for God to give him wisdom and lead him in the path that is best for our country, just as I would have if Senator McCain was elected. I must pray for all the congressmen, congresswomen, senators and all those in government. If my man or woman was not elected, I can be disappointed, but I must not allow myself to be bitter. I can write and voice my opinion as to what change I would like or what direction I would like us to go in key issues. But, again I say, I must pray.

I congratulate Senator Obama and Senator Biden on a remarkable achievement. I lived through the 50's and 60's and witnessed the injustices and saw the struggle that people went through to achieve the basic rights that were theirs. I grew up in upstate NY and mostly witnessed these things on TV. However, when I was a Junior in High School in 1961, I went on a trip to Mississippi. One night at dark, before we got to Mississippi, we drove past a KKK rally with a huge burning cross in the field and many people in white, hooded robes standing around and walking down the highway toward the rally and I was appalled. I saw state troopers directing traffic and I was appalled. Then later I saw a gas station restroom with a sign that said, "WHITES ONLY." I was appalled (and the room was filthy and this white boy didn't want to use it anyway). Then, in a village park was a water fountain and it had a sign that said, "WHITES ONLY" and I was appalled.

When I was in college, James Meredith came and spoke to us. A few years earlier he fought to attend the University of Mississippi. He finally won a lawsuit that allowed him to attend, but over the course of several days when he tried to attend, the governor of Mississippi blocked his way. Finally at the end of September 1962, a force of U.S. Marshals went with him to guard him. That evening white students began rioting and firing on the marshals guarding him. Two bystanders were killed, 28 marshals suffered gunshot wounds, and 160 other marshals were injured. President Kennedy sent in regular Army troops and James was able to begin attending classes. When he described his struggles to attend college classes with tears rolling down his cheeks, I was ashamed because I realized I didn't want to attend some classes because they were too early in the morning and I wanted to sleep in.

Over the years I have heard the racist comments from friends and sometimes family, including on occasion from my own dad that shocked me. And now we have elected our first black President! Watching the race riots on television in the 60's, I never would have thought this could happen in my lifetime. We have come a long way.

Now, I hope that race will NEVER be an issue in the future and we will only look at the candidate's qualifications and his or her stand on the issues. Have we settled this issue for ever? Perhaps not, but we have come a long way! 2008 has proven than any child born in the USA can grow up to be President and our democratic process still works.

Romans 13:1-7 says:
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Pray the authorities live up to and follow their God given responsibilities.