I have been humbled.
Yesterday was my first day of OT (yes, Occupational Therapy). When I was in the hospital (12/9-11, 2014) to remove my cancerous prostate, my Ulnar Nerve received a trauma. For those of you who may not know what the Ulnar Nerve is or what it does, I have stolen the following from Wikipedia:
The Ulnar nerve runs near the ulna bone. The nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body (meaning unprotected by muscle or bone), so injury is common. This nerve is directly connected to the little finger, and the adjacent half of the ring finger, supplying the palmar side of these fingers, including both front and back of the tips. One method of injuring the nerve is to strike the medial epicondyle of the humorous from posteriorly, or inferiorly with the elbow flexed. The ulnar nerve is trapped between the bone and the overlying skin at this point. This is commonly referred to as bumping one’s “funny bone”. The Ulnar nerve also helps fire the muscles for the grip.
We are not sure exactly the injury occurred. It may have been banged during or right after the surgery when they moved me. I may have banged it on the rail of the hospital bed, or I may have compressed the nerve while struggling to get myself up from a chair in the hospital room. The cause does not matter, the result is irritating.
I have constant pins and needles in my pinky and adjacent half of the ring finger in my right hand. I cannot touch my pinky to my thumb. My wrist/grip is weak because this nerve helps fire the muscles of the entire hand. During my OT assessment, the grip in my dominant right hand was 70% LESS than my weaker left, and the pinching tests (finger to finger) in my right hand compared to my left had similar results.
I am having difficulty with many of the tasks I love. I am having difficulty playing the piano, not just because of my weakness but because my right pinky can’t keep up with the rest of the hand and lags behind the instructions my brain is giving it. I can’t bowl because while I can grip the ball, when I go to the release it falls off of my hand. My horrible handwriting is now worse, and simple everyday activities such as handling a fork, typing, shaving and brushing my teeth are now a chore.
My neurologist (yes, I have a neurologist now!) said that the nerve will heal and the symptoms should go away, IN A FEW MONTHS!!!! In the meantime I am going to OT to help re-strengthen the muscles that are not getting the signals from the damaged nerve.
So, I said humbling? How about it took me 15 minutes this morning to try to button my shirt sleeve button on my left arm (I was stubborn, I wasn’t giving up!). How about how difficult it was for me yesterday in OT to pick up toothpicks with my third and fourth fingers and thumb and press them into putty, or using a hand-held spring tensioned vice device to pick up 100 cotton balls and put them back into a box. How about sitting at a table performing these therapies with three other people, all stroke survivors, who have it much worse off than I do. I am doing OT just for one injury, they are doing OT as part of a regiment of therapies to recover from their injury.
We all take many things for granted. The air we breathe, the food on our table, etc. We don’t even think about the countless things we do each day. It’s easy to forget about these simple things (they are just there for us), until we lose some of that ability. Like a fish out of water who can’t process oxygen, this simple injury has had a major impact on almost everything I do each day. Even now, as I type this I am unable to use my pinky (I am a 10 fingered typist) and it has taken me twice as long to write this as it would have two months ago. But then again, two months ago I wouldn’t have given a second thought to type this out quickly, or button my shirt, or pick up toothpicks, or touch my thumb to my pinky, all activities that require much more work or are impossible right now to achieve.
I have been humbled.
There are few things more important than music in my life. Breathing, health, family and friends will always be on the top of my list, but after that there is music. Music is the very essence of who I am and I cannot ever live without it.
Music has been with me for as long as I remember. I started playing the piano at the age of 5, and remember buying my first records at 11 or 12 years old. I cannot imagine driving in my car, exercising, or performing any other passive function without listening to music. As I write this article I am listening to music. It is all around me, and I am always thinking about it.
Music is the way I express myself, and moves me in ways that I cannot accurately describe. Without any warning, music can make me laugh or cry, lighten my mood, move me, it can remind me, and inspire me like nothing else.
The the right sound at the right time, in the right situation, affects me like almost nothing else in my life. The other day How Can I Be Sure by The Rascals shuffled on my phone and the beauty of the song hit my emotional center with such force that I was close to tears, brought on by the beautiful lyrics and amazing instrumentation behind the words. Similarly, while driving the other day I Don’t Want To Go Home by Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes came on and it lifted my spirit as I thought about summer, the beach, youth, and anything but the 18 degree temperature outside.
I am very open minded about music and listen to so many different genres that when someone asks me what type of music I like best I am unable to answer them. Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist (I have seen him over 60 times and am not ready to end that ride), and if I had to make a list of other favorites the Beatles would be number two, but after that things get rather confusing. For example the last 12 songs I have listened to on my iphone are:
- REM – Driver 8
- Grateful Dead – Big Railroad Blues
- Genesis – Ripples
- Rush – Subdivisions
- Springsteen – Streets Of Fire (Live ’78, Passaic)
- O.A.R – Shattered (Turn The Car Around)
- Bob Dylan – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
- The Band – Get Up Jake
- Pearl Jam – I Am Mine (Live)
- Phish – Ghost
- The Verve Pipe – Colorful
- Linkin Park – Bleed It Out
So, you can imagine my lack of surprise when some of my friends call me a music snob. You can imagine how hard it is for me to make a mix CD for friends. I like so much, and have so much material to draw from (close to 1000 cd’s, a few hundred albums sitting in a closet, and over 6000 tracks on my itunes library) that choosing the “right” songs for a mix is an impossible labor of love that totally depends on the mood I am in.
In a future article I will write about the social side of music, what that means to me, and how it has changed for me over the last 40 years. I will talk about how in the old days your collection took up a wall in a room (and organizing it, if you did,, was a labor of love) and today it may fit into a hard drive the size of your hand. I will talk about how I have shifted from an album oriented approach to listening to music to a track approach, how streaming makes exposure to music much easier, and how all of this is good and sometimes limiting to how we share and listen to music.
Thank for listening. If you love music as much as I do, I hope you found this article interesting.
And remember, it is possible to “learn more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school”.
So, what happened?
Having a busy schedule and commitments happened.
Not writing a post since June is not what I wanted. But somehow life just got in the way.
AND, getting prostate cancer and having a Radical Prostatectomy on Dec 9 happened.
It is absolutely amazing how the layers of life can get so complicated
and busy and then you receive a cancer diagnosis on top of it and all
of the shit that is hovering near the fan hits and gets all over
The good news is I am cancer free.
The bad news is recovery after surgery can suck the life out of you. My surgeon
was great and did an excellent job. What they don’t tell you before the
surgery is how tough the recovery is, especially after a major four hour
The first few weeks were horrible as I had no energy and all I wanted
to do was sleep, not to mention going home with a catheter and an abdominal drain for a week. My continence is getting better but still not the greatest but I am told that this will improve with time. I need to be patient.
The most important thing is I AM CANCER FREE.
This whole experience has taught me alot about myself. I am not as strong
as I thought I was and I truly now know what it means to have to live one day
at a time. In the hospital I had to learn how to live sometimes one hour at
a time when I was waiting for my pain medication. My Al-Anon program
really helped me through the tougher times of this recovery and gave me the
strength and the guardrails to weather the days when my patience with my
body wore done and I started to lose it.
I still have bad days, but as I get stronger my resolve gets stronger and I am
able to weather and push through the tough moments. I am very lucky the cancer
was found in such an early stage and I am grateful for my long term prognosis.
I just need to be more patient with my recovery, take the bad days that come
along with the good, and live my life one day at a time.
More to come. Stay tuned….
A book, with paper pages dog-eared, words underlined to look up later, and a cover. A book sits with other books on a shelf, or is waiting on a nightstand or a table, ready to be picked up so the reader can re-enter that unique world.
Despite being a ‘techie’, I do not own a Kindle or a Nook. I prefer my reading the old fashioned way, with a book on my lap. I don’t need any of the distractions that technology brings. I just want the book and nothing else. I use my Ipad as a computer alternative for quick lookups, email, video, shopping, maps, etc. For me, reading on the Ipad is like reading a magazine article, quick and informative, as opposed to immersing myself into the world of a book.
A few weeks ago I was having a quick solo dinner at Panera Bread, a friendly place like a Starbucks for people to eat, read, meet with friends and use their free Wi-Fi. Many of the people eating by themselves had some type of an electronic reader. I was one of the few people there who was reading an actual book, and was actually not envious that they had their shiny electronic device to use while I had an old-fashioned book.
Yes, I know, having an electronic reader has many advantages. They are often lighter than many books, and you can have more than one title at your fingertips (even though you can only read one book at a time). You can also use most readers as a tablet as well. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection.
But a book, oh for me there are so many advantages to having an actual book, and it is often more than just the joy of reading. I know what I am reading just by glancing at it, and others know what I am reading as well. A book is a great conversation starter, and at this Panera I had two conversations with people about books. The first was with the cashier who saw the book I was holding (The Leftovers) and asked if I had read any other books by the author (Tom Perrotta). We had a great conversation about similar authors and recommended to each other additional books to read. Then, while getting up to leave I had an excellent conversation with the older gentleman sitting at the next table about the book he was reading, which I had finished a few months previous (Stephen King’s 11/22/63).
I am a “people person”. I love talking with others, even complete strangers in a public place, often to the chagrin of my family (“there he goes again, talking to strangers”). Having a book, as opposed to an electronic reader, is a natural ice-breaker and an easy way to make a connection with someone else. You may consider this nosey, but I want to know what others are reading and if they like it. I may want to read that book one day!
They are in the corner of our eye.
People that come and go, in and out of our lives.
We may not see them every day, or even think about them more than once a month, or sometimes even less.
But they are always there, hanging on the peripheral of our daily activities.
We often forget about them, but then something happens that brings them back into focus.
Perhaps it is a memory, or a picture we see, or something they post on Facebook.
Or we see them at a wedding, or at the store and we are polite and make promises to get together.
Maybe we get a “hey, ‘what’s new, how are you” text.
And then we find out what has been going on in their lives, while they have not been part of ours.
And we find out that they are sick, or lost their job, or their mom has passed, or their kid did something great or perhaps got into some trouble.
And we weren’t part of it, or there to help them, to comfort them, to help get them through it.
And we feel horrible about it.
Not because we weren’t there, but because we were too busy to be there.
And then we feel guilty, and bad, and lament that so much time has passed.
Because it is not that hard to keep in touch with the people that mean something to us.
No matter how peripheral they may be.
A quick email, a quick text, a quick call.
Hey, how are you? Hope all is well. Let’s meet for lunch, dinner, coffee.
No pressure. Just a quick connect, let them know that they still mean something to you.
We should all do it before it’s too late.
Some days just don’t work, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, things just don’t fit together.
You have a busy Saturday with errands to run, appointments to keep, and kids’ activities to watch or drive to, and suddenly you realize it is not humanly possible to do be in two places at once. You try to figure it all out, but sometimes a problem will seem so insurmountable that it will ruin the carefully planned dance of the day.
The only way to make things work sometimes is to either find a new peg or a new hole, or reshape the edges of one so they fit together. Easier said than done, but sometimes moving things around in your life makes things fit together better and will help restore our sanity.
Thankfully, most problems have a solution. You may not like it, but a solution can always be found.
I was at my dad’s the other day to change one of his high ceiling light bulbs. Nobody wants their 80 something dad climbing a ladder, trust me. We started to talk about a trip they were planning. As senior citizens a drive to Boston is not made without careful planning. Where to eat, where to pee, did we remember the hearing aids, things like that. Each transportation mode (driving, and who drives and how far, train, etc) have positive and negative aspects, and potential problems and pain points are all over the place. As we discussed the possibilities I realized that each stumbling block had a solution, which I carefully placed in front of him, until he agreed there was no reason why they couldn’t go to Boston via one of the many ways we discussed.
Sometimes things just don’t fit together. But with a little sandpaper, reshaping of plans, and a willingness to compromise we can make the square pegs and the round holes fit together nice and neatly.
Happy birthday to me. Woo friggin hoo.
Another lap around the sun. Another lap getting lost, wasting time, being productive some days and others not getting a thing done, and wondering what I want to do with my life when I grow up. Another lap of laughter and tears and happiness and grief and hard work and absolute amazement of the good and the bad in this world. Another lap wondering how Plan A is going, and thinking about Plan B, C, D, etc.
Being overly reflective? Yes. Less work years ahead of me than behind. Wondering about the career choices I made in my life. One kid out of the house and thinking about a different future for himself (and we told him, take the chances now before you get old and regret it, just make sure you can pay your bills), and another kid that will leave the house in the fall to start the next phase of his life.
I think it’s ok to reflect now; after all it’s MY birthday. I think its ok to wonder where it all went and what I could have or should have done differently. I know I am not alone. Not only us, but all of our friends have kids that our moving on and parents (those of us that still have them around) that are really aging and we are getting those aches and pains and sprains and tears and torn cartilage and more gray hairs, and we are beginning to see that we are not young anymore.
I DO have a lot of gratitude. I have an amazing wife, and two wonderful boys who make me proud, each in their own way, have a lot of close family, and am blessed with many dear and close friends.
We continue to take the laps around the sun. We don’t give up. We continue to go through the everyday grind of life. We get up in the morning and go to work each day (paraphrasing The Boss), we take care of our chores, and we pay our bills, and fold the laundry, and call the plumber and go to our kid’s games. And in all of that chaos it is so easy to forget to take a minute and smell the flowers blooming in the spring and pull out of the bottom of our pocket the good things in our lives that often get pushed there by all the crap that we have to do.
Enjoy life, it’s too darn short. Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me.