Search This Blog

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.