Friday, October 23, 2015

Blood Work

I didn't know the difference between triglycerides and tricuspid valve regurgitation until I looked them up and learned they are vaguely related if you eat too many potato chips and cause your heart ventricles to leak.

CBC is for Complete Blood Count? The only three-letter abbreviations I am aware of are NFL, NHL and NBA. And I thought all cholesterol was bad; I didn't know there was a good-cop, bad-cop version of the stuff.

Needless to say, I'm not the most savvy person on my own health. I roll APBA games most of the time. How strenuous is that? If I can wake up, drive to work, head home after the appropriate 8-hour shift and be able to work a remote control, then I'm fit as a fiddle. Never mind if I'm as big as a base fiddle, or as out of tune, metaphorically, as a Friday night fiddle at country jamboree that features flashing neon advertising.

So, when my doctor asked me to do my yearly blood work a while ago, I ignored it. And, to be honest “a while ago” was about two years ago. I seem to have a habit of procrastination. Once, the doctor refused to give me a refill for pain medication until I walked over to the lab and had blood drawn immediately.

I returned to see him recently about some sinus infection I was dealing with and he asked again about my blood work. “I'll get to it,” I replied, filing the request in the recesses of my recall where I keep things like remembering to buy bathroom supplies, getting a hair cut and sitting through oil changes at the garage on Saturday mornings. Necessary, but not enjoyable.

But then life happened. I met someone recently who restored the feeling of my really being loved and cared for and, for the first time in a decade, I felt reciprocating emotions (see Leaving the Swamp, Oct. 6, 2015 ) It's hard being motivated to do something on your own, when your only reward is self-satisfaction. It's much easier when you can envision a bright future with the person helping and encouraging you. She has been a major influence on me.

She asked me to stay healthy and be around a long while so we could continue growing in this relationship together. Guys, if you're not motivated by that, you may skip the doctor visit and head directly to the mortician.

She suggested on a Wednesday night that I think about checking all the blood work and doing the yearly thing, albeit two years later than I should have. On Thursday morning — less than 10 hours after the initial request — I went to the clinic. Motivation, I tell you.

I was greeted in the lab by a tech who handed me a small cup and pointed to a bathroom. I had forgotten I was to provide another sample and, like any good traveler, had gone just before I left. But, gee whiz, they needed thee whiz.

I won't get into too many details here, but providing a sample is not the easiest thing in the world to do. And the bathroom door lock was broken. So, I did the deed; one foot on the door to keep it closed, the other in some spread stance to provide some semblance of balance. I didn't want someone barging in on me while I looked like I was doing a yoga maneuver. Urinating Dragon? Tilted Bass Fiddle?

Since I had already given my sample earlier to the city's wastewater system, the process was slow. Add to it that I was going to write for the newspaper I work for a story that day about a rapidly growing drought in the state, and it was tough. I began thinking of Niagara Falls; rainy days; and TLC singing “Waterfalls," in which Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes urges us not to chase waterfalls, but instead stay with rivers and lakes.

When I left the bathroom, I made some joke about “needing another beer or two” to give them a decent sample. It wasn't funny. The techs looked at me as if I dropped the sample jar on their shoes.

I then went to the section where they suctioned the blood out. I took a photograph of the needle in my arm and the blood draining into vials and later sent it to my motivator as proof that I did, indeed, follow her urgings. The tech took four small vials of my blood, taped a bandage on my arm and sent me on my way.

It took all of about 30 minutes. Now I'm waiting for the results. I am sure they will be better than previous tests. I have reduced those pesky triglycerides by quitting potato chips and other starchy things and I've not noticed any valve regurgitation of late. This girl may be a life-saver. At least, I'll be able to roll the APBA dice with more confidence that I am well, as soon as I get this bandage off my arm and my back muscles heal from that yoga workout.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Getting Cut

I read an article a few days ago about a handful of successful people who were cut from sports teams of their youth. Apparently, the revelation of being told they weren't good enough at an early age was the motivation for them to turn it around and become wealthy leaders in their industries.

CEOs, bank presidents, even former CBS News anchor Dan Rather were all dropped from high school teams and they fared well later in life. We all know about Michael Jordan being told he wasn't going to make his high school basketball team; he turned out okay as well.

So, it makes sense that I should have been doubly successful in life because I was cut twice from teams of yore. Somehow, that early childhood trauma didn't translate into some survival instinct in my career, though.

I never had much of a sporting prowess. Sure, I could play basketball with the neighborhood kids, and I was decent in backyard whiffle ball. I could stick-handle a puck in our street hockey games in Minnesota like old Northstars leftwinger J.P. Parise. But put me in some organized sporting event and I became pretty klutzy. I had the dexterity of a broken-stringed marionette operated by a drunken puppet master with palsy.

I've written about my baseball experience here before. I was about 10 years old when I tried out for Little League in northern Minnesota. I was supposed to wear glasses to correct vision so bad that I think the eye doctors who diagnosed my epic myopic eyesight originally thought of just giving me a seeing-eye dog and a tin cup and pointing me to a street corner. But I opted not to. Vanity, in my case, was blind and I relied on my sense of smell and sound to maneuver around. Yes, I was as blind as a bat when, well, swinging the bat.

I was playing left field for our Little League team on my birthday that year. Some kid on the opposing team — the Orioles, I actually remember — lofted a soft fly ball my way. We were losing 28-1 at the time; if I could catch the ball, there'd be some satisfaction I could garner from the game. I stared at the sky, hoping to smell the incoming ball. Instead, it plopped behind me, the kid scored, we were trailing, 29-1. The coach screamed at me, took me out of the game and ushered me into a world of the first of many disappointments.

When my family moved to Arkansas several years later, my parents wanted me to get involved with school activities more to help bust that culture shock of moving from the north to the deep south. I tried out for the basketball team. Again, I was awful. I could dunk a basketball flat-footed and I knew how to spin the ball on my finger. If we had a halftime show ala Harlem Globetrotters, I could suffice. Forget putting me in a real game, though.

During practices, the coach called for a star drill, in which players ran in a frenzied, yet choreographed, pattern, passing a ball back and forth. When it came my turn to participate, I looked like Lucille Ball trying to dance a congo line with Rockettes. I ran to one point, the ball ended up at another. The star, sadly, blinked out. The coach yelled at me, “It's a star drill, stupid.” I over-analyzed, asking if he meant a regular five-pointed star or if he was referring to a Star of David.

About a week after I tried out for the school team, a small forest fire broke out near our home. My father got a hose and watered down the edge of our yard to keep the fire from spreading. I grabbed a rake and tried to cut a fire line as protection. I ended up stepping into a pit of burning leaves and my sock caught on fire, badly burning my foot. Now, 40 years later, I still have a faint scar from that.

I couldn't walk, let alone do star drills, and that gave my coach the perfect opportunity to cut me from the team. It hurt my pride. Even at that age, I knew I was no good but the rejection still stung.

It may be what helped draw me to the APBA game, though. I decided to learn the strategy of basketball and the tendencies of NBA players of that era and gravitated toward the APBA basketball game. It's a plodding game; most complain about the length of time to play, but I learned the teams by playing those contests and could out talk anyone about the pro game.

Years later, I interviewed the coach who dumped me for a story for the newspaper where I now work. The coach, long retired from the school system by then, had become a county judge of one of the rural counties in my coverage area in northeast Arkansas. I don't recall the topic of the story, but I called him and eventually told him about how he cut me.

He became nervous and asked if he was diplomatic in releasing me from the team. After all, I write for a paper that's read by about 190,000 people during the week and 285,000 on Sundays, along with multitudes online. His words would be read by a lot of people; I think he was apprehensive that I may have carried a grudge for quite a while. I told him he was right to let me go, and he probably saved the integrity of the school's athletic reputation by keeping me off the hard court.

But I wondered, after reading about how all those who prospered in business got cut early in life, why I didn't fuel my rejection into millions in salary.

Maybe I need one more rejection. Maybe there's some senior men's basketball team around that needs some power forward that I could try out for. If they do a star drill, I'm sure to get cut.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Leaving the Swamp

Those of us who play the APBA sports replay games do it for a variety of reasons. For some, we do it to recreate a season of baseball — or any sport for that matter – that resonated with us. Some play tournaments and others combine seasons for a “What-if” scenario. Could the 1998 New York Yankees, say, defeat the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game series? We also roll these games as a form of personal nostalgia; we can recapture the youth that has slid by so long ago.

But I venture to guess that part of the motivation for playing these games is to escape from the trials life has dumped on us. Stress at work, money problems, loss, broken relationships, illness, fear of change. There's a myriad of reasons.

But, in my case at least, the very game I play to forget about the outside world and use to escape into the familiarity of previous baseball seasons has led me to an entirely new world.

One of the Facebook pages I often visit is the APBA Baseball site. We share our own game stories, talk about current sports and post pictures of APBA game cards received in the mail. Some of us become “friends” with each other via Facebook. All that to say that I “friended” a guy from APBA who had another friend. She would join in during some of our posted “conversations” about sports or news items or just life in general.

It began over a year ago with the Facebook comments. One of us would come up with some spirited, fun discussion that we could all join in on. She and I began sending chat messages on occasion and, finally about two months ago, a phone call that lasted over three hours. The more I talked with her the more I realized this was a special person who was pretty like-minded with me. (We are seeking treatment for her on that behalf.)

So, that all lead to me gassing up the car and driving 554 miles to meet her in her town last week. Seeing her in person, obviously, was much better than talking on the phone and as the week progressed, I found that getting to know her was rekindling feelings I've not had since my wife passed away nearly 10 years ago. I am a hopeless romantic, but this had me bumbling around like an 17-year-old kid just before prom night.

For example, on the second night of my visit, we watched for the lunar eclipse that most of the country was waiting for. It was cloudy; we never saw it. It didn't matter to me. And later, when I drove her home and made the 4-mile trek back to my hotel, I sort of got lost —both in bliss and along the road. The trip was a straight line from her home to the hotel. A three-year-old who was able to connect dot-to-dot puzzles could figure out the path. But, I failed and I forgot where the turn was. Never mind the hotel is four stories tall and has signage and lights. I missed that. When I did find the correct turn, I pulled into the wrong lane and, when seeing a car heading for me, I drove over a median helter-skelter like, thumping over curbs, drawing the wrath of those who knew how to drive and embarrassing myself all the while bearing a goofy grin.

It was that kind of week. Blissful. We went to see a lighthouse and a beach and I took a bunch of pictures. It was the first real vacation I've had in more than 15 years. We also watched movies and on Tuesday, the last night I was there, we saw Shrek. Those of you who have kids know the movie. I've never seen it. The premise of the 2001 cartoon film is an ogre who lives alone in a swamp. His solitude is interrupted when he and a talking donkey are enlisted to rescue a princess. In the end, Shrek wins the princess and finds friends, all by leaving the swamp.

Later, as we talked about the week we had, she noted that I had “left the swamp,” after I said I broke from the routine of my own world and ventured out. I was glad I did.

I used to play whatever APBA replay I was doing constantly, often rolling four, five, six games a day. Others have lives — families, kids, friends — that keep them from playing as much. But I didn't. Until now.

The dice sat quietly on the table at home, unrolled for a week while I was away, the longest spell I've gone without tossing a game for quite a while. When I returned from my trip, the game was there waiting patiently, like it always does. And, after driving nine hours, unloading my car, going to the grocery to stock up on water and returning, I picked up the APBA dice, got the team cards out for the next contest and, in the stillness of the late night and the feeling of the road still in me, I rolled the game.

This time, though, it wasn't to escape, but instead to rejoice.