Monday, December 22, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1400

Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused— in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened— by the recurrence of Christmas.” ― Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz

Merry Christmas! Well, Sort of…
For the second year, our Christmas tree is approximately 30 inches tall. In years past, we  decorated extensively, with lights in many windows and a six-foot tree decked out in hundreds of collected ornaments, each with a story or a memory attached. When we first moved here (36 years ago in October) I decorated outside the house. However, four straight years of vandalism by the Rubber Knife Gang and associates convinced me to decorate our windows from inside only.

As I was gazing at our diminutive decoration, I was suddenly swept away by a flood of memories. My mind's eye was filled with Technicolor, high definition, home movies: Younger versions of us were decorating the tree with whichever of the kids weren't yet too cool for Yule. One by one, they lost interest in our family Christmas traditions, and I believe began to view my fascination with them as quaint.

For a short time, our grandchildren shared the old-fashioned Christmas activities. However, they quickly moved on in this digital age, not wanting to be slowed down by ponderous old-time activities.

Way Back in the Olden Days
Gripped by overwhelming nostalgia, I flashed back to when I was smaller. It was at Christmas that I came closest to being a child. I don’t remember really being a child, just a miniature person with more medical problems and fewer privileges than I wanted. Usually, my siblings received toys and clothes for Christmas and birthdays. I received clothes, but my toys included: books, a chemistry set (and additional lab equipment), a microscope, a telescope, and a typewriter (because my handwriting sucked). These were great gifts (and expensive) and I quite literally wore them out, but I did it alone. It seemed I was on the fast track to be mayor of Sombertown.

At Christmas, my folks did more things with us, and there was always lots of great food, great decorations, and great music. The old black and white TV seemed brighter with holiday episodes of regular shows and musical guests on Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason. Even Lawrence Welk was tolerable at Christmas, though I could never figure out how his singers could sing so well while constantly showing all their teeth.

At Christmas, I felt more a part of the family than at any other time of the year. I was participant, not spectator. I could play, not just observe. It never lasted long enough.

The 1400
1400 days sounds so much greater than 1399! It amazes me that life goes on, despite battles with bugs and viruses; with allergies and asthma; with cold hands, numb feet, and side-effects. Our home has become a hidden hermitage, haunted by a hoary hermit -- an ancient curmudgeon afraid of viruses and bacteria, fearful of every fungus among us. I don’t think of myself as a hypochondriac, for the same reason I don’t believe you are paranoid if they really are out to get you.

I’ve had success avoiding illness by generally avoiding groups during flu and cold seasons. However, I fear the effects of keeping to myself so much and I try to sneak out once in awhile. As Dean Koontz wrote in Velocity: “A fine line separates the weary recluse from the fearful hermit. Finer still is the line between hermit and bitter misanthrope.”

I may keep my distance to avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital, but I pray hard not to become a hermit. I may be a curmudgeon, but I will endeavor to never be a misanthrope. In honor of this pledge, I wrote: A Hermit’s Christmas.

God bless and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1395

Hurts So Good
After many months of enforced inaction, my muscles bear close resemblance to oft-used rubber bands (elastics?), and complain when forced into service. Tonight, they are feeling abused and ill-used. Their workout began this morning, when I walked out the front door with Dante in search of snow to discolor.

I had intended to shuffle to the road, so Dante could unload, and then toddle into the backyard for a few minutes of his snow-diving in fresh powder. However, there was considerably more powder than I thought, and nearly 24 inches of snow plow deposits in my driveway. Marian and Amanda usually tackle the tundra with scoop and shovel, but this stuff was heavy and growing stiff while sitting there, compacting under its own weight. So, I opened the garage door and grabbed the scoop.

Two passes with the scoop reminded me why I don't do this -- I spent more time coughing and trying to find enough oxygen than I did moving any appreciable amount of snow. It was then my eyes drifted to the ancient (25-30 year-old) John Deere snowblower in my garage. It was festooned with summer detritus and surrounded by yard tools, but I figured, what the heck, why not?

I checked the oil -- still full from fall. One tire is a bit low, but that only gives better traction. I tested the electric starter, and it worked. At this point, the little voice in my mind began reciting its usual mantra: "Things are going too well." I decided to ignore it, and poured about a half gallon of gas in the tank. I looked around and found no apparent leaks, so I opened the valve on the bottom of the tank, at which point sudden dripping told me I have a problem: really old gas lines that finally dried out. What to do?

There was no easy way to get the gas out of the tank again, so I cranked the creaky old machine, and it wheezed, coughed, and roared. Why not burn as much of the gas as possible, while throwing snow out of my driveway? The impeller was well lubricated, so it worked well. This is a John Deere 1032, which means (I believe) it is a 10 hp blower with a 32 inch maw. I have a 15 foot driveway -- which explains why the blower spends most winters hulking down in the dark of the garage. I backed it out, and pushed on into the snow...

I had forgotten how much muscle this ancient behemoth required. After ten minutes of casting white drifts halfway to the neighbor's yard, I ran out of oxygen. From this point on, I would blow a strip of snow, and pause to find enough oxygen to continue. I was fortunate the temperature was in the mid 20's, for colder temps would have caused my lungs to seize and bring on a full asthma attack. With only about 27% lung capacity remaining to me, I have to be careful to not to allow oxygen saturation to drop sufficiently to let hypoxemia occur. It's sorta like drowning, only not so warm and fuzzy.

As I was staring at the last strip of snow remaining, I heard another rumble over my shoulder, and turned to find a neighbor and a friend approaching with her snowblower. She said: "Put it inside and I will finish up." Gratefully, I nodded and trundled off to the garage, where I shut off the machine, closed the valve, and placed an old soda bottle under the valve to capture any fuel seepage. I thanked her for her help, closed the garage, and collected a thoroughly frustrated Dante (tied safely out of the way) to go indoors.

No Rest, Though
I went inside to finish my morning meds and have breakfast. Shortly thereafter, Marian started baking her Serbian Kifli, a labor intensive, but delicious cookie we have only at Christmas time -- not just because of the work involved, but because we'd both weigh an additional 50 lbs.! I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound; so I volunteered to assist.

It was a lot of work, but I was well rewarded with hot tea and "kiffles" later in the day.

Now, I ache from the unusual activity and I don't mind a bit. I think I will sleep soundly tonight. I need to rest up for tomorrow: our 43rd Wedding Anniversary!

God bless all of you who continue to pray for us, Lord knows, we need it.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1379

The Once and Future Word
Every once in a while, I do a web search on myself. I do this for a very specific reason: I want to know if my ancient footprints still exist among all the dust and cobwebs of the darker corners of today’s Internet. Once again, I found an old post on a technical writing discussion list, one I posted March 31, 1993, lamenting the rising cost of attending conferences and suggesting that technology could provide methods to attend a conference without leaving home. Hint: streaming was not even a glimmer in my mind’s eye at the time.

I go through this exercise to remind myself that what I send out there -- into the great black hole of online media in that immense cyber universe -- tends to remain out there...somewhere. Like radio waves into space, once launched there is no retrieval. Once out there, I have no control over who reads it, who might save it, or if anyone ever sees it at all. How odd it is to think that I have been casting messages in bottles on the Internet sea for more than 22 years.

The Most Wistful Time of the Year
I had plans for the 2014 fall months, most of them aimed at correcting oversights in home maintenance and comfort, but they fell away as early snow and cold (and an unfortunate sinus infection) have driven me into an early hibernation this year. I’m five days into a ten-day course of powerful antibiotics and (gulp!) prednizone, provided by my doctor at Mayo Clinic for just such an event -- primarily to keep me home instead of hospitalized. It seems to be working, but the side effects of prednizone are disturbing and pronounced. So much so, I reduced the dosage myself, so the tremors would be less violent and debilitating.

My October 15 report from Mayo Clinic was excellent. The bone marrow biopsy results showed me to be in morphologic, cytogenetic, and molecular remission -- with 100% donor chimerism (my blood DNA is still 100% my brother’s). The doctor even called to congratulate me. Woohoo!

Now this.

I’m back to trying to sleep “in the upright and locked position.” The trick is slide off into oblivion before the next paroxysm of coughing begins. The shortness of breath is intense and prolonged coughing can leave me gasping like a fish out of water. I wonder if this is what waterboarding feels like? However, I believe this too shall pass and I will begin my winter-long hibernation -- away from most sources of potential infection and away from crowds.

Put the Demon Away
My grouch genie is once again out of his bottle, thanks to the gentle effects of prednizone. My long-suffering family forgive my outbursts, for they know the source is chemical, not personal; steroid, not stress; and most importantly -- me, not them. Five more days and I hope to put the demon away, back in his bottle of prednizone pills

Special thanks to all who have sent prayers and good thoughts, the genesis of my daily gift of life and blessings from God.