The Desolation of Ig

Any excuse to throw in a Hobbit reference, right?

Remember my last posting – the Ig Sale? Got another one for you.

Meet Ig, the purple lizard (I think he’s a lizard), another fun, silly gift from my step-mother in commemoration of that day back in the early 80s. If I remember correctly, purple isn’t his original color; she painted him that color because I love purple. (I also love cobalt blue and malachite green in case you’re wondering.)

I’ve declared him an honorary dragon to go with the little dragons in my collection. Those three, I purchased at various sci-fi/fantasy conventions in the late 80s – most likely at WorldCon (the World Science-Fiction Convention) – an event I really loved attending every year with the same gaggle of nerdy friends.

Dragons, of course, need loot to guard, just like Smaug. So after I retired and brought home my small collection of Challenge Coins, I realized I had the perfect place to display them: in the curio cabinet with Ig. There’s also a couple of lapel pins which co-workers gave me.


The Ig Sale…

…and I don’t mean Instagram.

In my continuing saga about my knickknacks and souvenirs, I present these 2 stuffed green creatures.

Way back in 1983 or thereabouts, I was riding with my step-mother in her car (she was dropping me off at my job on the way to her job). As we sat at a red light on Dodge Street, one of the main drags through Omaha, I looked over at a drug store on the corner. (No, I don’t remember the name of it or the cross street.)

Large orange letters were splashed across each of multiple window panes: BIG SALE, BIG SALE, BIG SALE, and then…IG SALE. One of the B’s was missing.

I looked at Jacki and said excitedly “look, an Ig Sale! Igs are on sale! Please get me an Ig!” She responded dryly, “Janet, you are an Ig.” And thus was born an inside family joke about aliens named Igs. Among other things, we created a family structure (pods of 4) and a sport (elbow wrestling).

It was eventually forgotten after I moved to California in 1984, and besides joking with roommates that I was an alien, I didn’t think much about it. Then came 1986. As I opened presents from family (birthday or Christmas, I don’t remember which), out popped these guys: alpha critters.

While toy shopping for younger relatives, Jacki had discovered these Alpha Critters (designed by a Lloyd Gilbert) where each letter was created as some sort of fantastical creature. Naturally, the letter “I” was an “Igg” – spelled differently of course, but nevertheless an Ig – just what I had asked for a couple years earlier.

Thank you, Jacki.

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater

No, this isn’t a post about nursery rhymes, although I did learn something new while I was looking for a catchy title. One of the interpretations of this very old rhyme is that Peter’s wife was promiscious so he stuffed her in the pumpkin as a way to keep her from running around. Seems that there’s some debate as to whether she’s dead or alive when this happens. But there’s also something called McFarlane’s Twisted Fairy Tales where Peter is a cannibalistic serial killer who keeps his victim’s body parts in a pumpkin. [source: Villains Wiki at]

This post is about an actual pumpkin. Well, a glass pumpkin.

After conversations over the past couple of years about about knickknacks, souvenirs, and all that clutter that many of us seem hardwired to accumulate, I’ve asked myself who is going to want any of these things I’ve collected over the years? Who is going to know where they came from? Or what they meant to me? So I decided to start telling some stories behind my clutter, and hopefully you’ll find them sentimental, or funny, or strange, or least entertaining. Being October, with Halloween on the horizon, I decided to start with this:

While on a family trip to Estes Park, Colorado, for Chris & Savannah’s wedding in August 2008, we visited Glassworks Studio & Gallery for glass blowing demonstrations. I can’t remember if I watched them make this specific pumpkin or if it was already made & sitting on a shelf, but I thought it was pretty.

Not a very exciting story, I know, but the amusing part came a couple days later while I was going through security at Denver International Airport. As my backpack went into the x-ray scanner, not one, not two, but three TSA agents huddled around their display screen, squinting, with confused looks on their faces. And silence. Then, finally, “do you have a pumpkin in your bag?” All I could do was laugh and say yes.

So this knickknack will forever remind me of the day I befuddled airport security.

Not a recommended weight loss strategy

The first time I was admitted into the hospital, I clocked in at 122.5 pounds. Don’t know what I weighed at release, but when I was admitted the second time, I clocked in at 113. It’s definitely true that any serious illness takes a lot out of you, including body fat, muscle, stamina, your ability to concentrate, etc. But whatever you do, don’t deliberately make yourself sick in order to lose weight. It’s not worth it. The amount of time it’s taken me to get my energy level back = six or seven months. Tomorrow will be my two year anniversary of retirement from my office job, but I feel like I’ve lost half of that time, not just a quarter of it. I’ve made no progress in most of the post-retirement projects I started. And, some days, it seems like my brain is still trying to swim through mud while wearing a wet fuzzy sock. Where did my creativity go?

Rather than lament my malfunctioning brain, we’ll go back to my final stay in the hospital – the good and the bad:

The good: the nurses, especially the trainee nurses, and the other staff at Kaiser Oakland. Kind, caring, attentive, friendly. Being a major metropolitan area with an incredible array of diversity, I had nurses and other caregivers from different states, different countries (Central America, Asia, Southeast Asia, etc.) Six months ago, I could remember their names. Now, I can only remember Olivia, who I think was the youngest and newest of the trainees. She was sweet, gentle, and concerned for my well-being. She was my favorite.

The bad: prisoners housed on the same floor as regular patients. That first night was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The man in the room next to mine was a disruptive, screaming, asshole who’d been sent there for an (undisclosed) treatment from a local prison. Yelling that he was being abused, his rights were being violated. He fought with the staff, spit on them, punched them, and on and on. The nurse who was trying to help me get some sleep kept apologizing to me. I wasn’t the only one he was upsetting. There was another woman on the floor – I think on the other side of his room – (an older woman by the sound of her voice) who started crying loudly after one of his outbursts (the kind of crying that’s from fear rather than sadness). For whatever reason, they were trying to avoid sedating the jackass, but finally did so around 3 a.m. and I was able to finally sleep. But then the next day, he was allowed to wander around the floor and in the afternoon, as I was laying in my bed half awake, I saw a large shadow against my door (which was open). In the distance, a female voice said “that’s not your room, sir!” followed by a very close gruff male voice “I know” but the shadow moved closer. That was followed by running feet, a short scuffle, and the man was hauled off into his own room while he was yelling incoherent bullshit. Needless to say, I was quite vocal in sharing my opinion with the staff that I hoped “he’s being sedated earlier tonight than last night.” Not only sedated, they chained him to his bed after that. (Thanks to Erin who volunteered to come to the hospital and be my advocate if I felt unsafe.)

The good (post hospital): most of the unrelated, random symptoms I’d had in the past year (that I wrote about in a previous post) disappeared after I recovered. The only one still plaguing me on occasion is the weird dead spots in my left calf and the general weakness in my left leg compared to my right leg. But that’s all probably connected to the herniated lumbar disc from 2016. I even had a nerve conduction test done on the leg this summer, and the neurologist says the nerves are fine, it’s the leg that got “deconditioned.” Still waiting for that referral to physical therapy.

The bad (post hospital): my stupid leg (see above).

The rest of my second hospital stay was wonderfully uneventful. It’s surprising how comforting it can be listening to the BEEPING of the monitors (especially when the hospital engineers are still on strike so there’s not much in the way of entertainment beyond the two working t.v. channels). And when your doped-up-on-morphine brain brings up random memories, you can choose to smile and laugh, and picture William Shatner as Buck Murdock in Airplane II, The Sequel:

“We’ve all got our switches, lights, and knobs to deal with, Striker. I mean, down here there are literally hundreds and thousands of blinking, beeping, and flashing lights, blinking and beeping and flashing – they’re *flashing* and they’re *beeping*. I can’t stand it anymore! They’re *blinking* and *beeping* and *flashing*!”

Antibiotics? Who needs those?

That’s sarcasm, by the way.  

After a new cat scan showed that my colon was obstructed, I spent a few hours in a morphine-induced haze before getting whisked off into surgery – sometime after midnight, I think. When I woke up, I had a nine inch incision running down the center of my abdomen with 30 staples securing the edges. 

I don’t remember a lot about the next couple of days except the surgeon explaining that they’d removed the obstruction and examined my intestines. Fortunately there wasn’t any damage necessitating a colostomy bag. (Yea!)  They said I would heal just fine and we even set up a scheduled appointment for the staple removal. (I’d be back in the hospital the day before that however.) 

So I enjoyed the morphine drip, sleeping a lot, a couple visits from friends, and texting/talking to relatives out of state, but grumbled over the handful of working TV channels. (The Kaiser engineers were on strike so no one was fixing that system.) I didn’t really miss food – they don’t feed you right away after surgery – and when they did bring me food…. Umm… yeah… not sure that qualified as food. The broth and juice were okay, but their jello sucks. Gag. Word of advice: don’t even bother to try their strawberry flavored “jello.” Absolutely revolting. I couldn’t even swallow the first bite.  

By Thursday, I was feeling good and wasn’t hitting the “more morphine please” button very often. My digestive track was healing and producing the desired results – meaning they make sure that you can poop AND fart. One of the nurses said they love the sound of farting – that means patients are healing. It’s like “music to their ears.” I was getting restless though and thought if I was going to lay around in a bed all day, I could do it at home where I had lots of tv channels. Plus, I missed my kitties. 

So I was pleasantly surprised when the surgeon said I could go home Thursday afternoon. Because I’d been on antibiotics while there, they deemed it unnecessary to prescribe antibiotics for me to take home. In retrospect, that was the wrong decision. By Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, the skin around my incision had turned red and I had a low fever – so a quick email to the surgeon produced a prescription for antibiotics. But it would be too late to head off whatever was developing. 

I had begun to feel better each day – that’s what we expect when we get out of the hospital, isn’t it? So I really couldn’t bring myself to believe that I wasn’t. Even though I felt okay enough on Thursday to eat Thanksgiving Dinner (small portions), but steadily felt worse as the weekend approached. I told myself the new antibiotics would fix it. So I convinced myself that I wasn’t getting worse. I enjoyed the visits from friends (thanks for doing my laundry, Marian!) and didn’t let on how bad I was actually feeling.

The rest of Sunday I don’t even remember. I was exhausted, and just wanted to sleep. Monday was mostly a blur as well except for being sick to my stomach. That’s when the staples around my belly button popped open and the incision started oozing snot-colored fluid, completely soaking my t-shirt. (So much so that they had to peel my clothes off me when I got into the ER.) 

And that’s how I got to that moment when I was sprawled across the bathroom floor, telling myself to get up and call for help. 

Lessons learned: ask for help when you need it, ask the doctor for antibiotics, and don’t even bother sniffing the clothes you had been wearing when admitted to the hospital after they’d been in a plastic bag for a week. Just throw them away.


Colons, CAT Scans, and ERs, oh my….

It occurred to me, after re-reading my last post, that maybe I should go back to the beginning, and talk some about denial, perseverance, and communication. 

This colon-odyssey [does that work as a pun?] actually involved three ER visits, not just two. On Friday, November 12th, I woke up feeling “off” so didn’t do much of anything all day except stare at the t.v. or cuddle with the kitties. I’ve had “off” days before so I didn’t think much of it at the time. In fact, I really hadn’t felt totally normal for at least a year, but didn’t really know how to communicate that to my doctor. I’d had a series of weird, random, and unrelated symptoms pop up in the previous months, like feelings of extreme “I’m about to pass out” low blood sugar that were only alleviated by consumption of something sugary (testing showed my glucose levels to be normal) or excessive sweating (thyroid tests showed that was normal). And I had been tested for multiple things like Addison’s, Guillain-barré, ALS, Graves, etc. I’m pretty sure my primary physician was beginning to think I was nuts.

But on Saturday, the 13th, abdominal pains woke me up around 4 or 5 a.m. I had no appetite, but tried eating a piece of pizza around lunch time. Most of it stayed on the plate. This is, of course, the day the denial kicked in. I thought, how bad could it be? If I could just go to the bathroom, whatever it was would clear itself up. I was texting my friends during the day, and getting responses of “go the ER” or “call Kaiser advice line” (at some point Eva was texting me that she was just going to come and take me if I didn’t listen). So I finally called the advice nurse, and what did they tell me? “Go the ER” True to her word, Eva drove over and took me to the hospital around dinner time. 

I think I waited about an hour to be seen. Picture poor tiny me sitting in the waiting room, hunched over, my hoodie draped over my head, crying. 

After the initial evaluation, I was put on an IV and pain killers, then waited for a CAT scan…and waited…and waited some more…until I really (really!) had to pee. No response to my ringing the nurse call button – in their defense, the staff was quite busy. So I pulled out my cell phone and called them. Yes, I called the ER from inside the ER. Finally they let me pee, and a little bit later, they whisked me off for the long awaited CAT scan. 

What a disappointment that was. It was inconclusive. They did note that my colon was “severely distended” so if you ever wanted to accuse me of being full of shit, that was the time. So they sent me home with a couple of laxatives and some pain killers. While I recognize that there is a serious opioid epidemic in this country, and I can’t make light of that, all I have to say is “thank God for oxycodone.” I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the weekend without it. (No, the laxatives did not help.) 

Per their advice to consult my primary physician, I thankfully got an appointment Monday afternoon (the 15th). Original plans for that day included a lunch to celebrate Mary Kay’s 75th birthday, but even if I hadn’t gone to the doctor, I still had no appetite and wouldn’t have attended. 

This would be my last time seeing my physician, who subsequently retired in December, so “Thank you, Dr. Young” for listening to me, looking at that CAT scan with a frown, and saying “I’m not comfortable sending you home. Go back to the ER.” 

I’ll end here for now, but I guess the lesson so far is to talk to your doctor, or at least to your friends. If you don’t feel normal, say something. 

Get Up. No One is Coming to Save You.

This is one of those memes you might have seen on social media.  I first saw it more than a year ago, and tucked it away in my memory. I viewed it in a metaphorical sense, as a reminder that no one else can write the novel, short story, or screenplay roaming around in my head. I’m the only person who can do that. 

I didn’t think that I would ever need to take those words literally, but as I lay on the bathroom floor on November 29th, that’s what popped into my brain. My cell phone was several inches out of my reach. I would have to sit up and turn the other way to get it. What I wanted to do was give into my inertia and just lay there, sleeping. But I couldn’t ignore the obvious signs  that my surgical incision was infected and I needed a doctor. 

Of course, friends and neighbors had been checking on me every day, doing favors for me, after surgery on the 16th, but who’s to say on that particular day if anyone would check on me in time. I told myself out loud to get up. No one was coming to save me unless I asked. I forced myself to sit up long enough to get the phone and call the Kaiser Permanente advice number. They told me to go back to the ER. Fortunately my downstairs neighbor was home and took me over right away. 

The rest of the evening is sort of a blur. I remember a long wait, one I must’ve complained about because someone came out to the waiting room to explain they needed to clear a room for me. And the surgeon – ironically the same surgeon who had sliced my belly open a week and a half earlier to fix my obstructed colon – who, along with another doctor, removed a bunch of huge staples so they could open and clean the incision. Oh, and yes, I remember a quizzical “what’s THAT?” while they were using some sort of suctioning-sounding device. 

By the way, did you know that you can have scar tissue inside your body (from some injury or previous surgery) that is able to break free and then float around inside you? That’s what they explained to me back on the 16th. A circular-shaped piece of scar tissue had wrapped itself around part of my colon. As you can imagine that impedes certain bodily functions and if you’ve ever experienced pain from being constipated, multiply that by 100 and maybe you’ll get close to the level of pain that I was in during my two ER visits. I also had acute appendicitis. In fact, I was in so much pain the first time that when they told me the most likely outcome from surgery would be a temporary colostomy bag, my response was “I don’t care.” 

I’m pretty sure they took me to radiology for another cat scan (before they cleaned the incision – I think), mostly because of the trippy inflatable blanket thing they used to lift me between beds. That was like floating on a hammock, hanging on a boat deck, like the Polaris twenty years ago in the Galapagos, so my brain was somewhere in the tropics. Clearly, I was quite doped up on morphine by this point. By the time they were finished, I only remember pieces of conversations as they waited for a regular hospital room to open up for me. It seemed like they parked me at the end of a hallway, but I think it was the room I eventually ended up in. That’s where I would spend the next several days before (again) going home and relying on my wonderful friends. 

Huge shout out to Erin & David, Jasper, Mary Kay, Marian & Terry, Eva, Jackie, and Megan. From visiting me in the hospital, to rides back and forth from the hospital, grocery shopping, cleaning, taking care of the kitties, quick runs to the pharmacy for meds, cooking meals, etc., I couldn’t have done it without you guys!!!  

More to share next time…prisoners, antibiotics (or the lack thereof), terrific trainee nurses etc.  

Mini Book Review “Man, Fuck This House”

If you know me, you know that I picked this book because of its title. 

I hadn’t read anything written by Brian Asman before, but he’s one of several horror writers I follow on Twitter, looking for new and interesting books, movies, etc. And how could a title like “Man, Fuck This House” for a haunted house story steer you wrong?  Isn’t that what you wish one of the characters in such a story would say as they heed the house’s warning to get out? 

Not that this house wants the Haskins family to leave. No, it has something else in mind. Maybe.

Asman’s characters aren’t quite the typical dysfunctional family. There’s something a little off about each of them and my initial reaction to son Damien’s character was a flashback to the “Safe Haven” episode in season six of Criminal Minds. But I’m not going to tell you if I was right or wrong in that assumption. You’ll have to read the book for yourself. 

The book definitely has dark edges and takes off (literally) in directions you’re not expecting. It’s not particularly gory but it is unsettling as you watch this family navigate their new home and their changing relationships to one another. Is Mom insane? What’s up with Damien? Is Dad just as boring as he appears? And what about sister Michaela – is she complicit in her brother’s shenanigans? 

There’s a few typos here and there, and one death that I didn’t quite “buy” (not enough set up, I felt), but these nitpicks can be overlooked if you’re seeking a haunted house story that breaks a lot of the tropes and expectations of that sub-genre. Besides, how can you resist that title? 

Mini-Book Review: Beers and Fears

Mini-Book Review: 

Beers and Fears: The Haunted Brewery

Beers and Fears: Flight Night 

By Chuck Buda, Frank Edler, Tim Meyer, and Armand Rosamilia. 

Like horror? Like beer? Brewpubs? Short stories? 

These two books are for you! 

Named for a book signing tour the four authors regularly participate in, both of these books feature four separate, but inter-related stories set within a past or present brewery. They differ in format in that one of the stories (“The Last Taproom on the Edge of the World”) in the first book (The Haunted Brewery) serves as a framing device for the other three which take place at the same location but at different times during which the building was an insane asylum, a brewery, and an abandoned relic. The stories are full of supernatural horror: think hell, demons, broken souls, and karma. 

In the second book (Flight Night) the four stories also take place in one location (a brewery’s opening night) but are interconnected through a cockroach. Yes, a cockroach. Or, well, some sort of icky thing that doesn’t have humanity’s best interests at heart. So you can probably guess that the horror in this book is creature-based and, of the two, Flight Night is my favorite. And “Road to Roaches” is my favorite story.  

Bonus: If you happen to live in/near Newton, New Jersey, you can meet the authors in person this Saturday (September 25, 2021) at Angry Erik Brewing, 2 Camre Dr., Newton, NJ. They’ll be four of twelve authors talking about their work, signing books, and drinking beer! 

Mini Book Review: The Emaciated Man

Mini Book Review: The Emaciated Man by Evan Baughfman 

Do you have some teens in your household who would like to explore the horror genre? The Emaciated Man, a collection of short stories set in a middle school, is a perfect introduction for, well, your middle-schoolers. Scary but without the gore. And with Halloween coming up next month, now is the perfect time to buy them a copy so they can start reading. 

I admit that fiction for/about younger people isn’t my first choice but I really enjoyed these tales – it was a refreshing break from some of the darker fare I usually read. The only story that didn’t really grab me was “Mightier than the Sword” but the rest were a lot of fun. You’ll like that princess, and that locker and that cafeteria. (Why do I have an urge to re-watch 1985’s “The Stuff”?) 

Give it a try. You and your kids will like Evan’s work. He also writes screenplays and plays. He’s already got his kids started on telling tales. And they’re not even in middle school yet.