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.

“Collision on Tenerife” by Jon Ziomek

In keeping with the non-fiction theme I started with my previous mini-review, I recommend “Collision on Tenerife” by Jon Ziomek. 

This is one of those books that you probably shouldn’t read while you’re actually sitting on an airplane. Especially if it’s a foggy day. 

It is a detailed account of the world’s worst aviation accident: two fully-loaded 747s collided in the Canary Islands on March 27, 1977, killing 583 people. 

It was a devastating culmination of a series of bad decisions, bad weather, bad geography, and bad luck. One of the planes was behind schedule. The KLM pilot unnecessarily had his plane’s fuel “topped off” (increasing the plane’s weight). The airport on the other island was temporarily closed due to a terrorist bombing. Delay after delay meant Tenerife’s notorious afternoon fog settled against the mountains that abutted the airport, reducing visibility to near zero. 

Ziomek masterfully combines survivor accounts, news stories, and official reports to give us a thorough understanding of what happened and why, and lets us get to know the survivors and victims. Some reviewers complain about the time Ziomek spends examining the psychology of disasters (the “why” behind people’s reactions or non-reactions) but out of a nearly 300 page book [the 2020 Post Hill Press paperback] it’s not that many pages, and I found it interesting. Some reviewers also complain about the technical aviation details, but some of those details are crucial to understanding what went wrong in the communication between pilots and control tower. It wasn’t until after this tragedy that international aviation adopted the very specific terminology (for taxiing and departing aircraft) that was already in use in U.S. aviation. 

The one detail that sticks in my mind the most, several months after I read the book, is “three minutes.” 

Only the people who climbed out of the burning Pan Am plane within the first three minutes survived. The people who froze in fear and indecision, or who waited to be told what to do, died. [Survivors, of which there were about 70, estimated there were another 30 individuals who survived the initial impact.] Only those who moved, who helped themselves, who sought an escape route survived. There were no survivors from the KLM plane, and there was no survivor from the Pan Am plane past the three minute mark. 

In that vein, one of those survivors, David Alexander, has written his own book: 2015’s “Never Wait for the Firetruck” – I’m adding that to my reading list. 

Mini Book Reviews: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Mini Book Reviews 

Now that I’m retired and can catch up with my pile(s) of books to read, I thought I would throw some mini-reviews into my blog. (By the way, don’t ask how many piles there are – or how high they are. I seem to be blessed – or is it cursed? – with an interest in everything from horror to history to archaeology to science-fiction to mystery to fantasy to disasters to creative writing to to photography to screenwriting to computer/software manuals to…. You get the idea.) 

So you never know what you’re going to get when I post my mini-reviews!

So let’s start off with true crime/recent history in “The Devil in the White City” where Erik Larson weaves together the stories of Daniel H. Burnham (famed architect) and H.H. Holmes (soon to be famous serial killer) in the burgeoning city of Chicago as it prepares for the 1893 World’s Fair. As other reviewers note, Larson is a master of making non-fiction read like fiction – an entrancing story you will want to keep reading. Depending on your interests, the chapters of Burnham, the other architects, and the actual construction (and re-construction after various mishaps) of the “white city” will flow a bit slower than the more scintillating tales of a charming, handsome murderer and his unfortunate victims. I appreciated the way Larson presented those victims as more than just one-dimensional showpieces for the extent of Holmes’ depravity. 

Should you read this book? Yes! Especially if you love history in “bite size” chunks. (Definition of “bite size” – as in not the hundreds of years they try to teach you in a single semester at school.) You’ll also want to find a copy of Walter Lord’s “A Night to Remember” after you get to the end of this book and discover Burnham’s surprising connection to the 1912 Titanic disaster. 

Do you have any recommendations for me? (Not that I need to add to my to-read pile.…) While reading this, I realized I haven’t read any other works about serial killers. Even Jack the Ripper – what I know of him I’ve only glimpsed in movies or t.v. shows like the 1967 “Wolf in the Fold” episode of “Star Trek.” [I used to be pretty good at imitating Mr. Hengast’s “Die, die, everybody die” dialogue.] So let me know what Jack the Ripper tomes I should read. 

Speaking of murderers, I really want that outfit that Christine Redfern (Jane Birkin) is wearing at the end of Agatha Christie’s “Evil Under the Sun” (the 1982 film).  

Hmm…this wasn’t such a “mini” review after all, or was it? 

Xina talks audiobooks!

Hello from my friend and fellow author, Xina Marie Uhl:

Is listening to audiobooks the same as reading? Some people say NO. They argue that the narrator affects the meaning of the story. True? I’m on the fence. But the debate can get pretty passionate. 

One thing I have noticed is that I will pay attention to different parts of the story when they are read aloud than when I read from the page. 

This may have to do with how our brains process stimuli. After all, in school we learn with reading, audio, tests, working problems, and memorization. Whatever works, right? 

One thing is certain about audiobooks. Listening is a lot safer than reading when you’re driving a car or walking the dog!

In the interests of enjoyment, safety, and just plain fun, here’s some great news … 

Two other authors and I have teamed up to present a FREE audiobook of short, amusing stories. Woo hoo!

We’ve got fantasy (gnomes and unicorns), sci fi (aliens), romance (speed dating), and humor (cats!). This collection has a bit of each.

Download now or listen on the web!

And if audio is your jam, you’ll want to check out Xina’s titles available. Each is guaranteed to make you smile, chuckle, and downright guffaw!

Have fun with the collection, and let me know what you think. 


Cooking Tips from Precious, the tortie with a ‘tude!

How to help MomLady when she is trying new recipes:

Precious: When the refrigerator door is open, be sure to climb in to smell everything.

Mom: “Kitties do not belong in the refrigerator.”

Precious: After she pulls you out of the refrigerator, be sure to sit in such a way that she can’t close the door.

Mom: “Would you please move?”

Precious: Give her one small victory by moving, but promptly jump onto the counter, preferably in the midst of the bowls, jars, and boxes of ingredients.

Mom: “Kitties do not belong on the counter.”

Precious: Stick your face in the bowl of whisked eggs.

Mom: “That’s not for you.”

Precious: After she puts you down on the floor, wait precisely three seconds before jumping up again.

Mom: “Kitties do not belong on the stove.”

Precious: Okay, okay, give her another small victory by stepping off the stove, but hover right behind the container of corn starch.

Mom: “How about you get down on the floor?”

Precious: Look at her with that infamous feline expression that says “how about no?” (You may need to practice this beforehand.)

Mom: “Kitties do not belong on the counter.”

Precious: Pretend you are giving into her demands by stepping toward the counter edge, but stop when you reach her brand new cookbook. Sit on top of the open pages.

Mom: “Sweetie pie, I need that cookbook. I can’t be making Snoop Dogg’s Orange Chicken* without his instructions.”

Precious: Blink slowly at her.

Mom: “How about some treats?”

Precious: Be sure to wait for her to actually get treats out of the jar before you allow her to complete making her dinner.

*”Orange (but really kinda burgundy) Chicken with white rice” page 90 of Snoop Dogg’s “From Crook to Cook.”