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Friday, August 07, 2020

TALKIN' SHIT

Okay, kids, it's Serious Illness Story time!!!

One of the many, many fun things that I am discovering on my Stage 3 kidney failure journey is that the condition adversely affects one's bathroom functions...

You can guess where this story is going from that sentence, so feel free to stop here. You have been given fair warning.

For the past few days I have been semi-constipated but thought littler of it, as I had been eating light meals consisting mostly of Special K Red Berries cereal, until last night's Indian curry takeout meat, upon which I gorged shamelessly. I figured the fiber of the cereal and the assorted aspects of Indian cuisine would eventually team-up and open the sluices, so it was only a matter of time. Thus it was that I put it out of my mind.

Fast-forward to an hour ago, when I decided to finally drop off a massive month's worth of laundry at my local laundromat, so, I wrestled my overloaded granny cart down the stairs from my second floor apartment, a task that tested muscles that had lain fallow since the start of the pandemic and the closure of my gym. I wheeled the beast to the laundromat and hefted it out of the cart, which was basically a deadlift exercise with an improvised 60-pound kettlebell. That task also worked my muscles, particularly my core, and I felt the effect. I also wheeled the now-empty cart to the pharmacy and picked up my long-overdue meds. (While there I could not resist chatting up the always super-cute Latina who's been my favorite staffer there for years. She's utterly lovely and a total bombshell — who knows it — so I had to let her know that the jeans she was wearing today were absolutely her best friend. She smiled and simply said, "Hey, as long as I look good in them!")

I then made my way back toward home, but first I had to hit the Associated for a handful of items needed to facilitate tomorrow's kitchen endeavors. Nothing major, just some cooking oil, a couple of disposable aluminum pans, and some containers for fridge storage.

It was during my shopping that I suddenly felt the unmistakable sense of urgency, that signal that screamed "It's almost time for "BOMBS AWAY!!!", so as I paid for my items I debated whether to use the store's restroom or wait until I got home, which was just around the corner, not far at all. Common sense won out, as I could feel the contents of my arse cannon fighting a losing battle to remain within me. (At one point I could swear I felt fudge began to emerge, but, fortunately, I was just being presumptive due to my gastric anguish.) I asked the cashier, who has known me for years, if I could use the restroom. She gave me the green light, so I ran to the back, through the hanging partition and into where the loading into the basement took place, and attempted to enter the lavatory.

It's knob was broken and thus it was quite solidly locked.

I tight-arsed it back to the cashier, in agony, and explained the situation, so I was directed to ask the manager if I could use the can in the basement. I Found him and got approval (he too has known me for the past 23 years), so I flew down the stairs into the active basement, where loading and unloading of stock was going on, and made a beeline to the restroom.

I made it inside with not a moment to spare. In fact, it was so close, I swore I had a torpedo emerging from the firing bay before I had my pants down.

The resulting defecation was of such a tremendous, torturous scale, I felt like I was a priest committing a sacrifice to Sterculius, the Roman god of feces. If such were the case, the deity would be most pleased, as my offering was indeed mighty. A veritable edifice of of stored-up dooky that sat in the secret, underworld space's once-innocent porcelain receptacle in the supermarket that has served me so well in other ways for so many years. So impressive was this effort, that I thought I might have to battle it down the bowl with the nearby plunger as the water overflowed, but I thankfully did not have to endure such an indignity and the newly-minted temple of excremental wonder was accepted into Sterculius's hall of fecal fame with eagerness.

After an effort that was a profane parody of childbirth, I sat on the bowl in a genuine state of physical exhaustion. Is this what I can expect from Stage 3 kidney failure? If so, I need to be more aware and time such happenings with care. I was so drained (literally), I almost fell off of the seat.

I finally collected myself and felt much better, only to find that the only available toilet paper was two rolls, both of which had reached nearly their ass-end. I had the absolute bare minimum  of paper with which to finish the ceremony, but at least I had just enough.

Upon making my way back above ground and out of the rear of the store, I earnestly thanked the manager and the cashier and made my way home. where I collapsed for a while and reflected. The ride is for free, but is it worth it?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

TAKING IT WAY TOO FAR


While grocery shopping yesterday, I could not help but overhear a 20-something couple picking out assorted items.

What brought them to my attention was how unconsciously loud the woman, who happened to be a very cute blonde, was, as she blathered on endlessly about this that and everything else, but mostly about white women. What drove it firmly into the territory of the ridiculous and offensive was her doing all of this in an intentional "white woman" accent cribbed from virtually every black standup act of the the past sixty years — if you knew where to look, starting in the days when black men talking about white women on stage was a possible one-way ticket to the morgue — and her accent bore verifiable influences from Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Tyler Perry. All of this was compounded by mixing things up with an outrageous "ghetto ho" accent for counter-point. She was basically a one-woman minstrel show dropping "white gurl" jokes, or, if you prefer, a one-woman show of WHITE CHICKS. It was bizarre and I almost said something, but I let it go. If the cosmos wants to give her a "Bitch, are you for real?" moment, then let someone else do it. I have too much on my plate at the moment.

This level of un-self-aware cringe is what I was afraid of when some of my very white nieces and nephews started getting into Tyler Perry and began imitating Madea's mannerisms. Needless to say, I came down hard on that shit.

And now we have today's climate. How is her unabashedly doing this in a neighborhood dominated by people of color? The mind wobbles.

Friday, July 10, 2020

THE NEVER-ENDING SHITSTORM CONTINUES

Well, today sucked out loud. "Hey, Steve! What did I do on your summer vacation? Fun in the sun? Debauchery between the oiled, tanned thighs of some sweet lady in a sarong? Teaching bottlenose dolphins to be eloquent vulgarians?" Oh, GO FUCK YOURSELF...

Though the recurring hiccups gave me a brief respite during last night's watch of DOOM PATROL, they returned with a vengeance and kept me awake all night long. I could not go for more than a few seconds without hiccuping, so I resolved to make my way to the local urgent care when it opened at 8am. I had a similar issue two or three years ago and that's where I went for help during that incident, receiving a prescription for Gabapentin in the bargain. (It resets the vagus nerve, thus preventing the hiccups.)

Today, however, found me admitted a little after 10am, and once shown into an examination room I told the resident what was wrong, along with my prior history with the same thing and how I had come there before for help, and making sure to mention that Gabapentin did the trick last time. I also clarified matters further by letting him know that I'd had that nuclear stress test on Monday and that my hiccups started in earnest sometime on Tuesday.

The resident left and soon came back with the attending physician, and upon hearing all of this he asked me why I needed the nuclear stress test. I told him it was to check the state of my heart ahead of the upcoming dialysis fistula surgery, which was itself ahead of the eventual kidney transplant, and that information gave him pause. He felt that because a nuclear stress test is stressful (it's right there in the name), it was possible that the dilation of my heart's arteries may have shaken me up and kick-started the hiccups. So, before anything else could be done, he felt it would be advisable for me to undergo an EKG. I resigned myself to it because an EKG is basically non-invasive and quick, plus my chest and abdomen still bore the bare patches from when I got shaved for the EKG I underwent the other day.

Unfortunately for me, the resident was the one who was tasked to hook me up and administer the test, and the guy clearly did not know what he was doing. It took him 20 minutes to figure everything out, and the doctor, who was present for most of the prep, offered no assistance. After much fumbling I was finally properly connected to the unit, and when the doctor looked over the results he told me to get myself to the nearest ER immediately.

I was stunned.

I had just been given good news in this department by my team at Mount Sinai two days prior, so to hear that was a blow.

When I asked exactly what was wrong, the doctor stated that due to my age and the fact that I am a high-risk patient, it was best if I let the folks in the ER at NY Methodist (which was two avenues away) give me a going-over, which would include another EKG, blood work, et cetera, a prospect that filled me with dread, especially since I just cannot seem to go more than a week or two without being in a hospital for something. And frankly, I am fucking sick of it.

I explained that I had received good results from my cardiologist, but the urgent care doctor was having none of it. He began filling my head with every worst case scenario he could think of, including the possibility of me having "a metabolic abnormality," and with that I admittedly kind of lost it. I just sat there, silent at first, and then I quietly-but-sternly stated "It never fucking ends..." followed by a ramble expressing my utter weariness of all of this, only I cannot even remember exactly what I said. All I know is that I was clearly angry, as when I am in that state I remain seemingly calm but level-voiced while avoiding the use of contractions when I speak. The doctor was visibly taken aback, and he had backed up by a few feet as he said "I'm sorry. It's a hard road." In my head I responded with "Tell me something I don't know motherfucker," but I opted to be polite and instead stated "Yeah. It's a hard road I've been walking for the past seven years, and I am just exhausted."

The doctor proceeded to try and placate me, stating that if I went to the ER and it turned out to be a waste of time, "Hey, no big deal, but you've got to stay on top of this sort of thing." I figured there was no point in trying to get across to him just how comprehensively "on top of this sort of thing" I am and have been for years, so I told him I would go. At that point I would have said anything, just so I could get the hell out of there. Not just because of the unpleasantness of yet more testing and hospital shit, but because I could see my energy was scaring the shit out of the doctor. Those of you who know me in the world outside of social media know that I am basically a pussycat, but to those who have never encountered me before, I am a large black man whose manner of communication and overall demeanor do not jibe with the common perception an American black male, so I am already an unknown and confusing commodity to most. Couple all of that with all that's been going on of late, and in some eyes I become some weird sepia golem, only dispatched by who knows what ire-fueled forces. (Let me assure you it was not Rabbi Loew.) I did not mean to scare anyone, and the fact that that's exactly what I was doing just brought me right down. Anyway, I left immediately after being handed my dismissal papers.

Instead of hitting the ER, I came straight home, deeply bummed-out, and called a dear friend who's a doctor. Since all of my medical shit kicked off, she kindly offered her assistance as a consultant if shit gets too thick, so I called and told her what had just happened. I was immediately glad that I called her, because her calm, rational and soothing voice always puts me at familial ease, and upon hearing the situation she suggested that I call my cardiologist and may primary care physician at Mount Sinai for their take on the matter. I was still hiccuping and it was driving me insane, so I hoped talking with either of them would get me the Gabapentin I was denied during my urgent care visit. I left messages with the aforementioned Mount Sinai doctors and attempted to get some sleep while awaiting their responses, but that effort proved futile.

I eventually heard back from my cardiologist and, upon hearing of the situation at urgent care, he told me in no uncertain terms that there was no need for me to go to the ER, as my results from the other day clearly showed that, while not the acme of heart health, I was doing quite well, all things considered. The urgent care doctor may have been erring on the side of caution, but he also did not have my charts or the recent cardiac imaging to base his assumptions on, while my cardiologist had all of that. He told me not to worry and that the hiccups should clear up. If not, I was to call him again and we would take it from there. As for my primary care physician, she can sometimes take a while to get back to me if I leave her a message, which is wholly understandable, as Mount Sinai is swamped with COVID-19 cases, so I have yet to hear back from her. Thus, still no Gabapentin.

I again tried for some sleep, but I was so disoriented after no sleep due to endless hiccuping, I have no idea exactly how long I may or may not have managed to achieve some shuteye. The hiccups did eventually diminish considerably, but they still sneak in every few minutes, which definitely beats them occurring every ten seconds or less. I'm hoping it will all finally abate by the morning, by my throat is raw from all of it, and I have massive headache.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

A MOMENT OF "PURE IMAGINATION"

You never know where you'll find much-needed emotional release. To say that I have been incredibly wound-up of late would be a massive understatement, and tonight while finally watching last week's episode of DOOM PATROL — "Sex Patrol" — my emotional guard was unexpectedly fully let down, and the floodgates opened.

During an impromptu party to restore the broken Danny the Brick to his full glory as Danny the Street, Dorothy lets loose with a sweet rendition of "Pure Imagination" that, especially considering who it's coming from, was heartfelt and poignant. So much so that I found myself singing along with her as happy tears streamed down my face.

As a possible side-effect of the drug that dilated the arteries in my heart at the hospital the other day, I suffered with hiccups that would only briefly subside, so I got no sleep last night and spent the majority of going "hic" and having no appetite. I was going to hit the local urgent care in the morning and ask for a prescription for Gabapentin, the drug they gave me to reset my Vagus nerve when this happened a couple of years ago, but after "Pure Imagination" I felt better and my hiccups ceased.
Let's see if that state holds for the night (at the very least).

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

A LOST DAY

Today went by in a hazy blink.

As has been previously stated, it'd been a stressful past few weeks, with very little little sleep, so upon returning from the hospital yesterday I almost immediately crashed out for a few hours, waking up only for the most minimal of food intake. Today was no different, as I only got out of bed for the occasional bathroom break and a piece of toast. The residual effects of the isotope serum and artery-dilating drug rather did me in, so I was either sluggish and woozy with limbs that felt as heavy as lead, or I was out cold asleep for most of the day. I clearly needed the rest and I will likely go back to bed in a bit, but my appetite is final returning and it must be sated. Frozen Swedish meatballs and pasta to the rescue...

UPDATE

I just received my test results from my cardiologist and he says that after careful examination of the imaging and discussing matters with the cardiovascular surgeon, there is no reason for my fistula surgery not to go forward. My heart itself is in excellent condition, though there is a scar toward the lower region, but that could be due to my diabetes or a number of other things. The point it that I am in no immediate danger and no stent or other heart procedure is required. 

I asked him about my recent issues with occasional chest pains, and he stated that that could also be due to any number of factors — I've narrowed it down to a combination of endless worry over my medical issues, my mother's medical issues, the pandemic, and the lack of regular exercise at the gym for just under four months, plus dread over having to take yesterday's nuclear stress test (which proved to be unwarranted, as I was able to opt out of the treadmill) — but there was nothing in the imaging that pointed to anything being wrong. Not that I should ignore it if it happens again (don't worry, I won't), but it's all good enough for now.

I'm still confined to quarters for a few hours due to yesterday's two doses of that radioactive isotope serum, but that's fine by me. I'm also still kind of sluggish and loopy from the drug that dilated my arteries for the imaging, and part of its effects are feelings of nausea, wooziness, that sort of thing, so I'll mostly be staying in bed for the rest of the day. And with the dread over possibly croaking during the nuclear stress test out of the way, last night was the deepest sleep I've had in a couple of weeks.

Monday, July 06, 2020

ONCE MORE INTO THE MEDICAL BREECH...

Here we go again...

Due to anxiousness over what today's nuclear stress test at Mount Sinai may reveal, I got no sleep on Saturday night and finally shut down around 9am on Sunday morning, sleeping through to 4:30pm, after which I awoke briefly to hydrate, and then back to bed until around eight. Consequently I only slept for about an hour upon actually going to bed on Sunday night.

The echo stress test that I took on June 10th revealed that there is some narrowing in the arteries of my heart, so my surgery to install a dialysis fistula ahead of my eventual kidney transplant was delayed until I undergo a nuclear stress test to receive more precise data, which in turn delays moving forward with the transplant. A stress test sucks bad enough if one has not had any proper exercise for a while — as has been the case four almost four months, thanks to the pandemic shutting down gyms everywhere — and the nuclear version ups the ante by introducing radioactive material into the patient's system. I had one leading up to having my stent installed back in 2013, and I would not be surprised if I may require another stent. The stent is nowhere near as bad as it sounds; in fact, I was awake for the installation of my first one and I was fascinated. No pain, either, and after an overnight stay for observation I walked home from the local hospital where it was performed.

The issue with the current situation is that of late I have begun to experience a certain level of chest pains if I exert myself too much, and that is obviously concerning, but it was on the list of possible effects from decrease in kidney function, and mine is down to below 10%.

A stress test (of either variety) is intended to elevate and tax the patient's heart rate on a treadmill whose angle, speed, and level of difficulty increase throughout, and one is expected to hold on through it despite how torturous it becomes. The one I took a few weeks ago lasted for as long as I could stand it, but I had to quit before the optimal limit because my semi-arthritic right hip and knees just could not hold out, and when I got off of the treadmill I collapsed on the nearby gurney, heart racing/pounding, and painfully panting until I could finally breathe regularly. It's a scary sensation and I felt like my heart was about to explode, but the one reassurance was that all of this was taking place in one of country's best hospitals and under immediate care and observation by specialists. I will be enduring that again today, with things scheduled to kick off by me getting injected with radioactive imaging material at 1, after of which I lay there for a good, long while as the material permeates my system, and then the dreaded treadmill. Fortunately, a kind soul is giving me a lift there and back, so no dealing with public transportation. (The trip to today's branch of Mount Sinai usually averages about 70 minutes each way, featuring two trains and crosstown bus, and traffic permitting; by car it's about a half-hour each way.)

If I have to get another stent, then so be it, but anticipating that stress test is like slowly being led to the guillotine. And if I do have to get stented again, that means I will be in the hospital overnight for observation. I will have my phone and laptop with me, so I will be back with updates. Until then, I have to eat something before 9am, as I am allowed no food in my system as of four hours before the testing. Looks like poached eggs and toast and maybe a Chobani vanilla yogurt.

HOORAY FOR 2020...

Thursday, July 02, 2020

NEARLY SIX DECADES LATER AND STILL APPALLINGLY RELEVANT


From the BBC's classic THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS (aka TW3) series: a British number from 1963, lampooning tropes of the weekly light entertainment series THE BLACK AND WHITE MINSTREL SHOW (1958-1978) and commenting on the status quo of Mississippi at the time of the assassination of white Civil Rights marcher William Lewis Moore during a protest march. Basically "Springtime for Hitler" some four years before that classic of pointed offensiveness, this bit could absolutely NEVER be broadcast on TV (or damned near anywhere else) in 2020. Razor-sharp satire/political commentary played absolutely straight and ironically nostalgic. Seriously, do NOT play this at work, around kids, or anywhere near the easily-offended. 




 

 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

TODAY I AM 55



Another birthday, once more alone, but this time taking place under quarantine as I await the green light for upcoming dialysis fistula and kidney transplant surgeries. It's a shitty time and there will be no celebrations, but I did receive the following Facebook post from my dear friend since college, the Jewish flower of the Lower East Side, Izzy Izzy Bo Bizzy, now residing in Australia, married, and the coolest mother in the world the three superb kids:

Izzy (and her legendary midriff), circa 1991, surrounded by but a few of her cult of worshipers.

Bunche
Holy shit! That time again?
To celebrate my dear OLD friend.
You must be 69 by now.
The years have flown right by and how.

Let’s see, I need to get some things.
To ensure that this new year brings.
All of the pleasures without any stings.

Here is my list:
A 3 foot bong for old times sake.
Jaegermeister, to blame for mistakes.
A sushi platter and lots of dim sum.
A healthy maiden with a big round bum.
A certificate for my undying love.
A promise of fine weather from up above.
New nunchucks and a sexy blade.
Memories that will never fade.
A round-trip ticket to visit us here.
That won’t expire for over a year.
A day’s worth of talking, a lifetime of hugs.
A stroll in the park to hassle young thugs.
A year with my children to help them get right.
The knowledge that you are loved every night.

This year It is harder to give you these things.
Only Covid-19 knows what the next day brings.
But my friendship is your inalienable right.
I won’t give it up, I am prepared to fight.

Distance and time effect us in no way.
I will be your friend for EVERY birthday.

Even though now you are not in your prime.
I happily claim you as one of mine.

Eat, drink and make merry.
Celebrate your life.
Be good or next year I will gift you a wife!


I love you too, Izzy, and I miss you terribly.


 1994: Izzy at my apartment on the Upper West Side, expressing awe at the triumph of documentary cinema that is BOX BALL. 

Izzy today: Despite surviving marriage, three rambunctious children, and ongoing daily life in Australia (the land where literally everything is out to kill you), her mind remains haunted by that long-ago film of white trash testicular torture.

Monday, June 15, 2020

AFTER 48 YEARS...MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!

The "bears" from THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965).

When one's bear trap memory finally comes through: While listening to a YouTube critic expound on his favorite James Bond soundtracks, I searched Amazon for expanded CD editions of the Bond albums I've had on vinyl since I was a fledgling collector (age 9), as the vinyls did not feature all of the music used in the individual scores. During the search I stumbled across the 1966 soundtrack to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and I was reminded of a vintage promotional single I have that features the famous theme tune and an unnamed instrumental on the B-Side. I sampled each album track and finally discovered that the unnamed B-side was entitled "Jim On the Move," but, curious to hear what the other tracks might yield, I tested the entire album. In doing so I quite unexpectedly ended a music search that has taken me nearly fifty years to complete.

Between the ages of six months and just two weeks before turning seven, my formative years were spent in South San Francisco, where I was first exposed to much of the movies and TV that shaped my tastes, and it was there that I discovered the original THE OUTER LIMITS at a very tender age. I don't recall the number of the independent station that it used to run on in repeats — possibly Channel 44? — but I never forgot its commercial for the show's reruns. It was a nicely-edited black & white montage of assorted monsters and aliens— or "bears," as they were referred to behind the scenes when the series in active production — so my attention was guaranteed, set to a memorable instrumental tune that has been stuck in my head for 48 years. I tried to find out what that tune was via whatever research means were available, but not even the advent of the internet yielded an answer. Until just now.

When sampling the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE soundtrack, the available snippet that set off my memory alarms to red alert was from a piece appropriately entitled "Mission Accomplished," but while I recognized the snippet, it was not the specific hook that had haunted me for so long, so I looked on YouTube for the exact item. Sure enough, "Mission Accomplished" was EXACTLY that long-sought-after instrumental. Do any of you other Bay Area kids of my age remember this tune?
 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

PSILOCYBIN PSILINESS

With all the dire shit that's going on lately, both in my own world and the world at large, I have been focusing on positive thoughts and fond memories, and during the evening's reverie I was reminded of the following heartwarming story. Let's set the Wayback Machine to New Year's Eve, 1986 (going into '87): 
I was back from college for winter break and my mom was gearing up to go out for the night to a party. I was granted leave to throw a party of my own in the house, so I invited the usual suspects and one of them brought a big bag of mushrooms that we planned to stew down into a tea. While my mother was still getting ready to head out, I took a suace pot and began brewing down the mushrooms. Before she left, mom saw the simmering pot and asked what it was. I told her it was a Chinese delicacy a friend had brought over and that it had to cook down carefully or it would taste unpleasant and bitter. My mom is very much a "right now" person, so her foodie curiosity was not granted immediate gratification, which disappointed her, but I promised I would save her some of the "soup." That made her happy, but when she got back hours later she was at first annoyed to find out there was nothing left.
Myself and the friend who'd brought the 'shrooms were by that time tripping balls but having a blast, so mom only noted that we seemed happier than usual. (She somehow failed to note that our pupils were as big as eggs.) When she started to bitch about me not having saved any of the soup for her, I was able to avoid a tongue-lashing by telling her it turned out the ingredients my friend had brought had been measured improperly and the end result tasted like bitter tar, so we poured it down the kitchen sink's drain and chucked the solid remains. I showed her the simmered-down mushrooms in the trash, and she totally bought the story. 
From there my buddy and I spent the next couple of hours entertaining my very wasted party guests — most of whom my mother did not realize were bombed; she was very naive — and frequently retreated to the screened-in back porch to smoke joints and marvel at the beauty of the crust on the iced-over snow, which caught the moonlight in a panoply of psychedlic colors. At one point, standing there in the freezing cold, utterly tripped out and mesmerized, the silence was broken when my buddy simply observed "Dontcha love nature?"

Friday, June 05, 2020

TODAY'S FORECAST: SHIT STORM

I just got back from today's thoracic echo stress test. While I handled the treadmill part better than I thought I would, the imaging of my heart revealed some concerning news. My lockdown-related inactivity over nearly three months has allowed for what appears to be narrowing of my coronary arteries. I already have heart failure that goes with some of my other ailments and I keep things in check via meds, exercise, and overall taking better care of myself, and I was doing great with all of it until the lockdown. The doctor who saw me today conferred with my vascular surgeon, and now my vascular surgery is on hold pending what my new cardiologist has to say. I meet with him on Wednesday. 
The good thing about this is that I am not suffering either chest pains or shortness of breath during my few everyday activities during lockdown, so there is no need to immediately implant a stent in me, like what happened seven years back. The new cardiologist will give me a more thorough going-over and we shall proceed from there, but if I require another stent, so be it, and I will return to the gym with increased diligence. (Whenever it reopens.) Fortunately I am still not afraid, but the overall weariness has almost reached rock-bottom.
And at least I made it home before the rain starts.

VENTING IN THE WEE HOURS

I have another trip up to Mount Sinai this morning, this time for a thoracic echo stress lab, and I have been unable to sleep because of it. 
The other day my vascular surgeon noted that I need to be hooked up with a new cardiovascular doctor, as I have not had a proper seeing to by a specialist in that department since about a year after I had my stent implanted, so I have been without for six years. When I left the care of the cardiologist who did my stent surgery — and a damned good job he did, too — I was let got because I had done everything right when it came to post-op care and working on diet and weight loss, but not long after that my mom suffered her car accident. While she was first in a coma and then in months of physical rehab, I was back and forth from my home in Brooklyn to her house in Westport, where I took care of her bills and other issues related to getting her affairs sorted after the accident, so much of the work I had done to fix myself was undone by nervous comfort-eating. 
The stress of all of that plus her subsequent lung cancer diagnosis, alongside my own ongoing and sometimes quite severe health issues, led to long periods of personal physical debilitation, including close to two years of self-isolation due to the shocking state if my skin and the attendant damage that my compromised epidermis was wreaking upon my entire system. I became so weak that I had to borrow a pair of crutches to get around, provided I was feeling well enough to physically get out of bed (let alone even sit up, or crawl out of bed to use the toilet). Once Dupixent healed my skin and allowed my system to rebuild, I felt well enough to enroll at the gym and train in order to regain some semblance of mobility, and once that got started I fell in love with the exercise and became more fit and energized than I had been in decades.
Then the pandemic hit and the nation went into very sensible lockdown, so I was stuck in my apartment for just shy of three solid months without proper exercise. At Christmas I contemplated buying some kettlebells for home use but nixed that idea due to the gym being just down the street and around the corner, so I saw that as an unnecessary expenditure. I greatly regret it now, because kettlebells became scarce as people acquired them early during the pandemic, and my place is simply too small for much by way of the kind of workout, including weighted cardio, that I need in order to achieve the desired regular fitness benefits.
While I have not actively suffered chest pains or shortness of breath during the lockdown, who's to say what the state of my heart is in the wake of all this inactivity? My ancillary stress over the impending kidney transplant and the ongoing concerns about my mother's health are certainly not doing me any favors, and while shlepping to and from Mount Sinai this week I have found myself quite winded. The blocks and avenues in the low-100's on Manhattan's Upper West Side are long and the sidewalks are not necessarily level, depending on where one walks, so getting to and from the hospital from the 116th Street subway station utterly kicked my ass. Thus I am concerned that there might be issues with my heart again, and if so more stenting may be needed. All of the hard work possibly undone by necessary diligence during a pandemic lockdown, and I would be lying if I said that the better part of this week has found me unable to sleep while contemplating all of this. 
As stated before, I am not scared during all of this, but what I am is beyond worn-out from years of never-ending medical shit. I'll butch up and endure whatever I have to, as that has become my way of life since 2013, but the prospect of yet more to deal with is simply crushing.
Anyway, I'm going to try to close my eyes ahead of my alarm going off and once awake I will gird myself for today's gauntlet. I'll be back with an update in a few hours.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

RIDING THE DESOLATION LINE

10:30am: Totally alone on the 3 train to the Upper West Side. I have ridden this train innumerable times over the past 23 years, and I have never been alone on this specific line at any time of the day or night. The car remained empty, save for myself, for a good thirty minutes.

Just a day after meeting with the vascular surgeon who will be creating the fistula in my left arm to facilitate dialysis ahead of my inevitable kidney transplant, I received a call telling me I had to come in today for a COVID-19 screening, 48 hours before my thoracic echo stress test early on Friday morning. So, despite a night of little sleep and a mind unsettled by the state of the nation and its civil unrest, plus to say nothing of concern over my own issues, I hauled myself up to Mount Sinai's 114th Street location on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It's a two-hour round trip, and the COVID swab took all of maybe ten seconds.

You may ask why I made such a journey when there is an urgent care facility about nine blocks down the avenue from me, and the answer is simple. Mount Sinai knows and has worked with my various medical setbacks for about five years, so they know me inside and out and by having everything handled by them, there is less likelihood of crossed wires or misinformation with my lab results. Case in point: My prime donor for a kidney called me yesterday to inform me that she she would have to re-check her blood type, as her most recent info on it came from two different sources. (She'd had procedures at two unrelated locations.) The records at one shows her blood type to be O, a match for me, while the other states that she A-. It's stuff like that that makes me keep everything as centralized as possible.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS

Yer Bunche, post ultrasound.

Since having a stent implanted in my heart back in the fall of 2013, I have mostly avoided chronicling   my seemingly endless revolving doors of medical issues and setbacks, including severe atopic dermatitis, Type 2 diabetes, and ancillary issues. I did so mostly because I usually try to keep things here light and amusing, but in the interest of full disclosure and for the sake of posterity in case my tribulations may offer others some insight or hope when striving to overcome their own Job-like suffering, I will from now on record that which transpires, as well as periodically going back over the past seven years to supply the epic of my battle with atopic dermatitis and my road to recovery as one of the human guinea pigs for Dupilumab, the wonder drug that is now marketed as Dupixent. So, welcome to the ongoing narrative.

Ever since being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes roughly 24 years ago, I have also been suffering slow decrease in kidney function. In case you were unaware, kidney failure often goes hand-in-hand with Type 2 diabetes and in my case of late that decrease in function has drastically escalated. As of the other day my overall kidney function is down to a mere 10%, and as recently as four months ago, when my creatinine levels ceased randomly fluctuating and just kept escalating, my renal specialist told me in no uncertain terms that I had best prepare myself for the inevitability of either regular dialysis, which would mean implantation of a port in my arm to allow dialysis hookups three times per week, or a kidney transplant. 

I was put on the NY State kidney transplant list and, due to my blood type, the wait for a compatible kidney is anywhere from 7 to 10 years. (other sources say 3 to 10.) Fortunately for me, once I let it get around that I was up for a transplant, two very dear friends immediately volunteered to see if they were a match, so I just as  immediately had two possible live donors. With that in mind, the ball for transplant got rolling for me last Tuesday, as I endured a multi-hour screening with four surgeons at Mount Sinai, which included 18 (!!!) vials of blood being drawn for comprehensive testing. I was given a thick stack of paperwork to fill out, plus an equally thick stack of reading on the whole shebang, but the bottom line is that the process has taken baby steps toward getting started. Thus I waited to receive test results from Mount Sinai.

I got several calls from Mount Sinai less than 24 hours later, starting in the morning and going on throughout the day, once I confirmed with my specialist that I have a potential donor. (They knew I had two volunteers at that point.) They gave me two numbers and a website for the prime candidate to contact to get her screening process started, so I sent her all of it and I walked her through any info she needed from me via text.

My specialist is all over this to the point of being annoying, but her time at Sinai concludes at the end of next month and she's been tracking and working with my case for a couple of years now, so she wants everything done as right and as precisely as possible ahead of her departure.

No time is being wasted. I spoke with my specialist a few times that Wednesday and the day after and she is quite concerned about how rapidly my kidney function has decreased since the last time I saw her, which was just in March. She wants to get me started on dialysis ASAP, so while I was asleep on Thursday morning the vascular surgeon — who will be creating my dialysis fistula — called and left me a message, saying he would call back. Since then I spoke with two other surgeons, both of whom pretty much repeated the same information, the admin who gave me the info to give to my prime potential donor, and then my specialist again, who was checking to make sure all of the others had contacted me.

I left a message for my primary care physician, as I required a referral for a cardiovascular specialist ahead of the appointment that was made for me with one on June 10th. I will need a thoracic echo stress test ahead of any procedures, and I was told I will hear back from my PC either today or Monday. Meanwhile, the vascular surgeon eventually got back to me, as promised, and I went in to see him yesterday, That visit entailed a get-to-know-you along with a going-over of my current regular meds, along with an ultrasound evaluation of the arm that will receive the dialysis fistula. Both the surgeon and the ultrasound technician stated that my veins were excellent, so that's a relief at least. However, I have to go in tomorrow for a COVID-19 test ahead of the echo stress test, which takes place very early on Friday morning. And after that, I return for a followup next Wednesday.

Also, the prime donor's son, whom I consider my Number One nephew, let me know that he is also filling out the donor information, so that bring the tally of potential kidneys up to six. The past few days have seen an outpouring of support, as well as several kind volunteers offering up a spare, but of those who have made the offer six are immediate and two have fully registered with Mount Sinai's kidney transplant department, while the other requested and received the registration info. The two prime donors have both been given the green light as donors, so now they must endure a battery of tests to determine their overall health ahead of giving up a kidney.

That said, I'm good, albeit rather on edge. I'm just sitting here buzzing with nervousness, dreading the next time my phone rings, and also dreading filling my mother in on all of this as it all progresses. The past couple of days when speaking to her, it immediately degenerates into her going on and on about how she is constantly praying for me. I understand where she's coming from but she gets all wound-up and manic when she does it, so she comes off as quite crazy, which is in no way constructive. So, upon returning from picking up two prescriptions yesterday, I filled her in on the updates. I know she means well but I had to politely tell her to can it with the platitudes and prayer stuff, as I know she wants me to come out of this well, but platitudes and Jesus did not save me during my years of health tribulations. Science did. She reluctantly cut off the prayer stuff that was on the verge of issuing from her mouth and simply, sheepishly said "I won't say anything." 

So, I'm still buzzing, but a little less agitated than I have been. I am not afraid, just extremely weary after seven years of relentless poking, prodding, slicing, draining, biopsies, and hospital stays. I am absolutely dizzy from all of this, and this isn't really even the start of Round 1 with this procedure...

Whatever the case, one endures and comes out stronger. Adopt, adapt, improve.

"THIS IS WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE IN BROOKLYN"

Just after 7:30pm a demonstration made its way up 5th Avenue, just around the corner from my apartment, less than a half-hour before the newly-imposed nightly curfew goes into effect. The understandably incensed vibes of the crowd were palpable and the chanting of "THIS IS WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE IN BROOKLYN" did not fail to resonate. (Though it did seem a tad odd to hear that in tony Park Slope. I can name several communities in Brooklyn where such sentiments are way more justified.) Whatever the case, until the wielding of torches and pitchforks eases up, I will be staying indoors from 8pm through sunrise for the foreseeable future.

Stay safe out there, everyone. And stay sane and civilized. Exhibit more humanity than the oppressors.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

T-BONED

The "steak shopping" scene from PINK FLAMINGOS (1972).

I just got back from stepping out to pick up a prescription, and as I exited my building I saw the younger manager of the Associated supermarket around the corner running full-tilt down my block toward 4th Avenue, with a beefy staff member who could not keep pace hot on his heels. I put it pout of my head as I made my way to the chemists shop, and upon picking up my prescription I made my way back here but stopped into the Associated first for some seltzer. When I entered I noticed two NYPD officers, clipboards for taking notes in hand, conferring with the manager who'd hauled ass past my building.

Being a regular anywhere for nearly 24 years allows one a certain amount of access to the behind-the-scenes skinny, so when I hit the checkout counter I asked the cashier, whom I am friendly with, what was up. She described the situation thusly:

"What happened was this big woman in a hat, lookin' like a man — I think she was a dyke — came to me with a stack of steaks and asked about our return policy. I told her that without receipts we don't take back meats, so she looked at me and snarled 'So, I'm stuck with these steaks???' and with that she walked out with the steaks. So basically she chose some of our most expensive steaks, came up to me, and tricked me into thinking she was an actual customer. Alex (the manager) chased her all the way down to the R train, but she got on and he missed her by like a second."

I suppose I should not be surprised that this sort of thing goes on, but is it just me or is that move incredibly selfish? While the managers at the Associated treat the staff very well and understand when this kind of shit happens, that same kindness might not be exhibited at other NYC supermarkets, and losing high-end goods, especially during a time of crisis, could easily get an innocent cashier fired and cut loose into the nightmare that is the current unemployment maelstrom. Douchebaggery.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

THE QUEEN IS DEAD: R.I.P. LITTLE RICHARD (1932-2020)

Madness personified, and the 1950's exclaimed "WHAT THE FUCK?!!?"

Richard Penniman, better known and beloved as Little Richard, one of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll, has shuffled off this mortal coil, and I hope and pray that his last word was his signature "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" Crazy as a soup sandwich and gayer than a tree full of songbirds, Richard was arguably rock 'n' roll's first badass queer (at least within the mainstream), and you had better believe he did not care what anyone had to say about it. The guy was a showman to the nth degree, possessed of enough energy to power a continent, and his musicianship on the ivories was so far above criticism as to be untouchable. His antics onstage combined the raw energy of early rock 'n' roll with an aura of "I just escaped from a mental institution with my dick in my hands, and I dare y'all to catch me so you can line up to kiss my black ass," which certainly made him a unique presence in his era. (Though, to be fair, Jerry Lee Lewis was arguably the only one of rock's Mount Rushmore who gave Richard a run for his money in the showmanship insanity department.) Simply put, there was much to love about Richard, and one aspect of him that seldom gets brought up is that he taught us straight boys that not only was outright flamboyance fun, it was cool.

So it is with reverence and respect that I bid Little Richard a fond "Requiescat en pace" with not a trace of sadness, because he truly pioneered the uniquely black flavor of American craziness to popular music, and that is a joyous thing indeed.  Thus I close this eulogy  with an anecdote from when I was in my teens, a quote from my mom on Little Richard: 

"Oh, god, Little Richard... When we first saw him on TV in the Fifties, it was like some kind of space-alien had just stepped out of a flying saucer. No one had ever seen anything like that on television, and I distinctly remember saying out loud 'What the hell did I just watch?' when his performance was over. The only thing I can remember that was as crazy around that time was James Brown with that cape, but that's another level of weirdness."

Saturday, May 02, 2020

"WHERE NOBODY'S DREAMS COME TRUE..."

One upside to the barrenness wrought by the pandemic: Being able to wander around a practically-deserted Key food at 7:30am in what amounts to a gas mask while loudly singing along with "Pico & Sepulveda" and grooving my way to the self-checkout aisle. The staffer assigned to watch the line and enforce social distancing could not take his eyes off of the large, strange black man singing and dancing like a loon. The few others present at checkout didn't bat an eye. Quite freeing, really.

A WOULD-BE PANDEMIC PROFITEER STRIKES OUT

Enterprise! You've got to enterprise!
Enterprise! 
You've got to enterprise!
And God bless the blackout when it comes!
— "Enterprise" from RUNAWAYS (1978)

After completing errands before 9am today, I had planned to stay indoors for the next few days at least, but I ventured out just after 2pm once alerted of a prescription being available for pickup.

After the rainy weather of the past couple of days, spring arrived in all of its (quarantined) glory, so by the afternoon the previously deserted streets of Park Slope were once again bustling with life. Most of the people that I saw were merrily wandering about, glad to be out of their homes, hugging too-long-unseen friends and loved ones, but few sported masks or any form of mouth coverings or gloves, save for those entering the supermarket right around the corner. (No mask, no admittance.)

As I walked north along 5th Avenue toward the Chemists Shop (my preferred pharmacy by a landslide), I noted a guy across the street who was decked out from head to toe in a well-worn hasmat suit of the kind you can snag via eBay for around thirteen bucks (excluding shipping and handling). His face was obscured by a mask and he even sported those plastic baggie boots, along with, for some unknown reason, a blue superhero-style cape, rendering his whole look into a sorry cosplay variant of Moon Knight. He ducked into the 24/7 convenience store on one of the corners, but came out again almost immediately, after which he quickly crossed the avenue and ended up on the sidewalk a few lengths ahead of me. 

He too headed into the Chemists Shop. 

When I entered, I saw him brandishing a sealed box of ventilator masks, and he was attempting to sell them, "cheap," to the too-savvy-for him counter girl and the weekend manager, who is also always on the ball. The mystery wandering medical supply entrepreneur gave it his all, but the staff simply were not having it, outlining to him how they were only stocking and selling 3M brand N95 masks, and noting that what he was attempting to push on them were cheap paper knockoff that were functionally "useless." Realizing he was not dealing with the gullible, he beat a hasty retreat.

When I approached the counter, I engaged the staff in our usual session of friendly "regular" chatter, and allowed them to vent about what had just transpired. Apparently, the guy had been hitting all of the local convenience stores, supermarkets, bodegas, and supermarkets, and word of his scheme had gotten around.

Never underestimate the grapevine of small Brooklyn businesses.

SERIOUS SAUSAGE, RUNNY OVER-EASY EGG and CHEESE CROISSANT


I say that as a reward for making it through the week during the pandemic/quarantine, we all treat ourselves to an obscene weekend breakfast. Today's for me was a sausage, runny over-easy egg, and cheese croissant, with a lashing of cayenne pepper. Utterly delicious and way better than one you'd get at a diner or a Dunkin' Donuts.

The secret is obtaining a large croissant (as you are making a proper sandwich and not a dainty snack) and flattening your sausage patty meat between two sheets of parchment paper, making sure it's flatter and wider than a pancake. Meat shrinks on a griddle, so making the patty super-wide and super-flat compensates for for that and allows the patty to be at a respectable size upon completion of cooking. The area of the sausage surface space also allows for carefully placing your egg and allowing the runny bits room to move but still stay on the sausage (more or less) while the croissant sops up some of the runoff.

Whatever the case, this is a 10 out of a possible 10 on the quality breakfast scale if done properly, and it goes swimmingly with tea.

Monday, April 27, 2020

SEASON OF THE WITCH

Waiting for the bus home on the deserted 5th Avenue in Park Slope after picking up a prescription during a quarantine is already weird enough, but doing so while listening to Vanilla Fudge's cover of the Donovan classic "Season of the Witch" adds a whole other eerie layer to the experience.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (2019)

Our heroes return.

Just sat through JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (2019) and found it to be better than expected, though it's hands down the second-weakest entry in the series (after MALLRATS). As is repeatedly pointed out over the course of the movie it's basically a remake, er, "reboot" of JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001), along with elements and characters from the other films in the run, and once more our hapless heroes set off on a cross-country odyssey to prevent the making of a film about them, this time a reboot. 

Jay (Jason Mewes) pays tribute to Buffalo Bill.

It starts out rather rote and I almost turned it off, but things pick up considerably once we are introduced to Millennium "Milly" Faulken (Harley Quinn Smith in what is easily her best role) and her trio of girlfriends, and she is revealed to be the daughter that Jay (Jason Mewes) never knew he had fathered. Sadly, Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) are sworn to secrecy regarding Jay being Millys dad, after which the girls hijack the stoners' road trip and force them to take them along to Hollywood. Wacky adventures ensue and Jay, who himself never met his dad must come to terms with his sudden unexpected parenthood of a belligerent and dangerous 18-year-old girl. That's over-simplifying a plot that's already about as far from Dostoyevsky as one can get, so I suggest smoking a fat blunt and just going with it. 

Millennium "Milly" Faulken (Harley Quinn Smith). When casting your own daughter is a good idea.

The movie overall is just okay, and instead of simply rehashing JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, I would have preferred for writer/director/star Kevin Smith to have focused the narrative on the sub-plot of Jay and Milly. Along with his familiar shenanigans as the motor-mouthed and not-necessarily-bright Jay, Mewes solidly delivers in the heartfelt scenes between Jay and Milly. It's in no uncertain terms a surprising effort from him and is a crowning emotional through point in what would otherwise just be a silly and disposable movie. We also feel for Milly's half of the equation, as it's made clear that much of her attitude and aggression comes from always having longed to meet the father that she never knew, which Jay eventually twigs to, and it truly rips one's heart out as we see him struggle to keep his word about not revealing to Milly exactly who he is. There are a number of moments of verbal exchange between Jay and Milly that struck too close to home for me and I freely admit that I openly wept in certain spots. (Those who know me well in the world out side of facebook will understand why.)
BOTTOM LINE: The emotional arc for Jay is what makes this film worth sitting through, and I sincerely hope that Mewes goes forward to stretch his wings in parts that allow him more to do than resort to his signature and admittedly funny stoner antics. Not a full-on return to form for Kevin Smith, but parts of this are razor-sharp. C+ for the film as a whole entity, but an A+ for the realization of the Jay and Milly sub-plot.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

MY SPRING LOOK

Considering my Type 2 diabetes and kidney issues, plus the fact that a number of my friends/family have been stricken with Covid-19, I decided to stop fucking around with the standard 3M mask and go for a SERIOUS upgrade. 

This bad mutha is a hell of a lot easier to breathe through, it fits snugly and comfortably thanks to straps around the back of my head and at the top, and it comes with modular organic vapor cartridges for filtration. As more and more reports come in concerning the virus as possibly becoming an annual event, this purchase was for something made to last, and I assure you this meet that criteria. 

Plus, in this bizarre climate, it's also something of a fashion statement. I can't wait to rock it with my bowler and Russian winter hat!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

ENTER THE...???

Today's moment of Brooklyn weirdness:
While walking back from picking up a pizza at La Villa — Park Slope's finest Italian restaurant/pizzeria, which was kind enough to be open for takeout during the quarantine — I passed some random guy who was sitting near the Garfield Place bus stop on 5th Avenue. When I passed he suddenly looked up, stared at me and, unprompted, yelled out "CHUCK NORRIS!" I initially ignored him but he again shouted out "CHUCK NORRIS!" so I kept walking but loudly responded with "BRUCE!" Confused, he asked "BRUCE???" I shot back with "BRUCE!!!" and kept walking.
I was wearing no martial arts attire and was carrying the pizza in one hand, and a bag of bottled seltzer in the other, so I have no fucking clue why that exchange took place.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A HARD HAT UPON AN EMPTY HEAD

Today's moment of charm: 

While at one of the local schmancy 24/7 convenience stores (the supermarket around the corner is closed until tomorrow), I was on line at the checkout counter behind to hardhat-wearing Latino construction workers. While waiting for the cashier to ring up his purchase, he complained to his co-worker about another employee at their place of employ. "Can't have that kinda shit goin' on at the site, man. The guy acts like a girl. I'm gonna get him fired. Can't be havin;' no faggot in in the crew. The boys don't play that shit son, you feel me? Gonna get him FIRED." The two of them then burst out laughing and loudly guffawed while leaving with their purchases. 

I was hoping to hear the too-late squeal of brakes as they were flattened by a delivery truck while crossing the street, but no such luck.

Friday, March 20, 2020

GEARING UP FOR COOKOUT SEASON (HOPEFULLY)

It's always a good day when one's new shirt for the cookout season arrives. (Though it's anyone's guess as to when this year's cookout season can officially start...)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

WHAT IS SEEN CANNOT BE UNSEEN

I'd hit it. (Oh, yeah, right. Like you wouldn't.)

I just mentioned this in a Facebook group conversation with fellow plague shut-ins and I felt it was worth publicly disseminating:

Considering how fast the adult film industry cranks out "parodies" of movies and TV shows, out of sheer morbid curiosity I just checked to see if a proper X-rated version of the CATS movie exists and what salacious idiocy it bore as packaging art. It could not possibly be more ludicrous than the actual movie, right? A proper tenderloin parody does not exist — YET — so the search did not yield the results I was looking for. That said, and I say this as a friend and as a concerned citizen: Do NOT Google "cats porn version." Trust me on this one...

Monday, March 16, 2020

PARK SLOPE DURING CAPTAIN TRIPS

As seen in the window of a temporarily closed boutique on Park Slope's 5th Avenue.

Went out for a brief-but-necessary errand to a print shop ad surveyed the state of the neighborhood in the process. During this time of caution, the streets in my section of Park Slope are uncharacteristically barren as the locals hole up and settle in to weather the CORVID-19 pandemic.  Vehicular traffic was equally sparse, save for the scheduled B63 buses. Small businesses and eateries are temporarily closing though, surprisingly, there was a long line as locals waited for the pricey artisanal butcher shop to open.