Saturday, December 27, 2014

Four New Years

The fourth anniversary of my surgery has come and gone. 

I can't believe it's only been four years (actually my wife had to remind me that it was November 19) it seems like it's been a lifetime. These four years have been a gift for me.  If I hadn't had the surgery I'd have been dead at least three years by now.  I hope I am making the best of these new years.

I have done my best to do the following:
  • Share time with our two grandchildren.
  • Share time with our kids.
  • Study writing; fiction and non-fiction (on this blog and others).
  • Study guitar (learn a new song - at least one - every month). 
  • Volunteer a few hours a week along with my wife.
  • Maintain the thriving young forest/woodlot which we started planting 15 years ago.
  • Study woodworking - making things out of trees gown on - and harvested from - family woodlots.
  • Umpire youth baseball/softball and coach junior bowling.

So this holiday season - along with the three before it - has had great meaning for me. Every day I take a breath and think how happy I am (like I know the other shoe will fall but I'm not sitting around waiting for it. ) I thank God for letting me hang around a little bit longer. I hope she thinks it's worth it.

I hope the new year brings you health and happiness.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Good News at six-month exam.

 My doctor (Urologist/Surgeon) came into the exam room with a big smile on his face and said; "It's all good news." And then; "Hi".  I had just come from the ultra-sound exam of my kidneys and bladder (neo-bladder) and he had these results and my blood tests in hand.  The ultrasound showed the swelling of my 'bad' left kidney has gone down significantly and my creatinine level is the lowest its been in two years (2.0).  My 'good' right kidney looked normal (slight swelling but that's normal with neo-bladders  - and even more so since it is still doing most of the work.

I reminded him that he had once said that a kidney that has quit working will shrink (did he say atrophy?) and he agreed that that may be what is going on here. But it's not causing any problems and the remaining kidney seems to be doing just fine.

And then, as if to punctuate the good news, he said he didn't want to see me for a whole year. That's just fine with me because as much as I like this guy, historically these meetings have brought bad news about half the time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


In general, pressure is not good for our health. Our bodies sense different kinds of pressure in different ways. Sometimes we recognize it right away and do something to relieve it, and sometimes we don't. Either we don't recognize the signs or we ignore them until ...

I need my head examined (??)

About a month ago my head started hurting. When I shook my head it hurt. Like there was a steel ball in there and it was banging around. I could take a Tylenol and it would go away so I wasn't too worried about it - at first. Then a friend died of brain cancer. And another one had a tumor removed from behind her eyes. And my head still hurt after a couple weeks. And it seemed to be getting worse - not better.

So I visited my doctor. After a full neurological exam he said it was stress - or arthritis in my neck. He could take X-ray's of my neck and send me for PT if I wanted.  I passed. He said a couple Tylenol are okay. I have been fearful of pain medicines because of my kidneys but he assured me that Tylenol is hard on the livers of drinkers - but I don't drink so I should be fine.

A couple weeks later my headaches seemed worse. Another visit to my doctor and slightly different symptoms; pressure on my ears. He again assured me that it wasn't a tumor and suggested a decongestant. I took a Xirtec and felt immediate relief in places I didn't know I had pressure. This was nice but by morning my head was really hurting (I get this from antihistamines.)

Once my sinuses recovered I was feeling pretty good and resolved that this was, indeed, a stress headache.  I only had a couple days of work remaining before I re-retired and even thought I didn't think my work was the least bit stressful, perhaps leaving it was. In the nine months that I'd worked there I'd come to know all the folks in this small department, and they all seemed to be very appreciative of my work and the help that I provided. Yes, it's very hard walk away from that. 

Too full (another kind of pressure)

My wife won tickets to a pre-screening of the movie "A million ways to die in the west." I had a softball double header scheduled ( I umpire) but it rained out so we went to dinner and a movie. As I waited for the movie to start, I thought I should go to the bathroom. I felt a little 'full', you know. With a Neo-bladder this sensation is very faint and easy to ignore. I ignored it. The movie was good so I was effectively distracted. Walking out I realized that all the cups of coffee and glasses of water at dinner had built into something that felt like a cramp. But unlike normal 'gas' cramps this didn't go away after relieving the pressure. I'm sure I stretched something that shouldn't have been stretched and it left a 'bruise' in my bladder - for want of a better word. For a couple days it was very painful to even walk ( thankfully they re-scheduled the double header three days later instead of one.)

 I have had this feeling before - since the surgery - and it doesn't do much good to complain about it because nobody understands. But I was very careful to keep my bladder empty and it seemed to fix itself just fine - in time.

Oh, did I mention that I re-retired. It's been a week and it feels great! Yes, my headaches are pretty much gone. I don't know - I'm just sayin'.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Retired again

My brother is a bit older than me and he has retired three times. Last fall, when I told him I'd gone back to work, he told me;  "It's okay to come out of retirement if, and only if, the job is absolutely the most fun thing you can possibly think of doing." It was - and then - it wasn't.

So here I am once again, sitting in Peet's Coffee Shop after my morning bike ride. After I finish my coffee I will ride back home to a long list of favorite activities - many of which I have put on hold in favor of work. Sound familiar? There is a stool on my workbench that has been waiting to be glued-up and finished for a year. And there are shelves to make and a table to finish. There is a boat that needs to be floated and a fishing pole that needs to be flexed. There are plants in the greenhouse that need to be moved to the garden. There are baseball and softball games that need an umpire. There are trees that need to be pruned and brush that needs to be cleared. And there are web sites that need updating.

 Last time I retired I got bladder cancer. This time I am hoping for better results. My last day of work was May 23, 2014.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Random Act of Kindness

It was -14 degrees (not including the wind chill) this morning as I stood at my bus stop waiting to go to work. A city police car pulled up and the officer asked if I would like a ride.  I told her that I was going to campus and she said that she couldn't take me all the way there, but she could get me a lot closer. I thanked her and said there should be a bus along soon. She said she'd drive by again in a few minutes, just in case.

This was the most amazing thing. It made me so glad that I had decided not to skip work today because of the cold because I would have missed this experience. The bus did come about two minutes later and all the way to work I was feeling the warmth of this small act of human kindness.

When I got to work I just had to tell someone so I stopped in the office of a co-worker and after comparing notes on the weather I told her about my experience. She said that was great and then proceeded to tell me her tale of being dropped off at the door by her husband ("chauffeur" she called him) because he was a teacher and school had been canceled. Okay, that was nice - but he's your husband, you know? My story is about a cop - a stranger to me - a cop - kindness - you know? Amazing right? "Well, maybe not so much", I thought and went about my business for the day.

When I got home I was still a little glowing from this experience so I told my wife the story. She immediately questioned if they had been told to do this. And then she went on to fill me in on the other news of the day. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, I guess.

I don't know about you but I thought this experience was uplifting and inspiring. I thought it proved that individual acts of kindness are possible (and quite common) - that there is still goodness and charity in our world. Our society has become so cynical, paranoid, and narcissistic. We all live in constant fear of others or that others will steal our stash. This experience made me feel really good about the world in which I live. And that, in turn, made me feel good about myself. I liked that feeling - however naive - and I will continue to use it to re-enforce my beliefs.

Maybe next time someone tries to do something nice for me I'll just keep it to myself.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mom's Song #8

We made the trip up to my sister-in-law's memorial a couple weeks ago. This was my older brother's wife and over the years she had become like a second mom. I will miss her. I know that my bother misses her desperately. She had cancer and it won.

My mother and I used to write letters. She was a great letter writer and to her it was an art (she was an artist - in her spare time). We rarely talked on the phone and she taught me by example (and through practice) how to write a letter. I missed this when she died.

My sister-in-law loved to write as well and she sort of took up where my mother left off. We wrote often and I will miss this.

When my mother died I wrote this for her - and now I read it for my sister:

Mom's Song #8
By Stuart Baker

So - how do I do this?
So why do I try?
The basket is filling;
the pen running dry.
The words keep on coming,
but their meaning is wrong.
So who do I write to
now that you're gone?

So what happened to wit
and humor so dry?
The words either to die
on the page where they lie;
or they drone on, and on, and on, and on ....
Who do I write to
now that your gone?

The eyes of the beholder,
when they're gazing back,
can inspire beauty
where talent is slack.
(at least that was the road
you were leading me down)
But when those eyes close
does the beauty go on?
So who do I write to
now that you're gone?

[Sing the following ]
But  who's gonna finish the story;
with ending yet so far from view?
'My Life and The Times',
though none of it rhymes,
would still have been music to you.
( musical break)

[back to spoken ]
So - I guess I'll continue;
just in case you were right.
Just in case there is value;
not just in your sight.
But just so you to know it -
so you don't get me wrong -
it's you who I write to
even now that you're gone.

It's you who I write to
Even now....

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Happy New Year

These days the mornings are cold and dark here in Wisconsin, and there's snow covering the bike paths and the bike lanes are narrowed by snow banks at the side of the streets. This, along with my work schedule, makes it hard for me to get to my coffee shop in the morning to write these posts. This morning I woke up early ( and didn't hit 'shooze') so I caught the early bus and layered against the -10 degree temp (not counting wind chill) and made it to Peet's for coffee. 

Continued good reports from the various medical proddings and pokings, combined with some personal success in managing my new bladder has helped to make this an extra special season.

Since that neprhostomy was removed from my left kidney, my urologist wanted me to have a blood test every month and an ultrasound every three. I believe this was to insure that we didn't miss any problems with my remaining good kidney. Last month my ultrasound showed that the swelling of the 'bad' left kidney had gone down significantly and the 'good' right kidney still looked just fine.  My Creatinine level had continued it's recent drop - to 2.1- which is lower than it's been for some time. All this good news prompted my urologist to change my schedule back to 6-month scans (they'll call me).

And on the management front, I have been struggling with night-time continence problems since the surgery. This has improved steadily over time and now it seems that I may have vaulted the last hurdle. I have spoken many times about the feeling before I go to bed that I needed to pee but not being unable to do so - no matter how much I strain, press, bear down, bend, and grunt.  My doctor has mentioned that some folks do some sort of self-catheter. I have taken a different tact. I have found that it's more a matter of finding the right relaxation technique than applying more force (I have also wondered if all this pressure creates reflux problems in the kidneys). And these techniques need to be different in the evening than in the daytime. I wonder if it's because I usually sit and watch TV for a couple hours before bedtime and this re-organizes things down there so that other things press against those tubes (things do move around down there more than they did before the surgery - I can feel it). Regardless, I have had good success with some of these techniques and it has made all the difference in making it through the night - dry.  Yes, these are little triumphs but they make the start of each new day just a little bit brighter.

Happy New Year.