Right place, right time

Where were you today?
Me?
Amazingly, inexplicably and entirely uncoincidentally I was again in the exact right place at the exact right time.

Today started as most days. My alarm went off at 445 and I laid in bed, enjoying the snooze cycle that grants me a 9 minute reprieve from the agony of getting up. In order to make it to Dialysis on time I have to be out of the house by 5:10. Of course I got out of bed at the last minute and I didn’t know that it snowed the night before. After removing the snow and ice I was running behind. I was in a bad mood.

As it turned out the clinic was running behind and it didn’t matter that I was late.

It was a miserable treatment. The needles hurt like hell from the minute they went in. The machines seemed to be beeping and pinging more than usual and I was really annoyed. Amazingly I managed to fall asleep but after a mere hour I woke up in agony. I had flinched (spasmed) in my sleep and one of the needles infiltrated my fistula. In laymen’s terms the needle punctured the wall of my vein. It’s excruciating. And it also meant the end of the treatment. They had to take me off so that I could fight another day. I left 2 hours early with a sore arm and a big blood stain on my expensive new sweat pants.

As I got into my truck, fuming, I remembered that I had lab work to do at the hospital. It was up the street so I decided, despite my mood that I needed to get it out of the way. I walked into the hospital, went to the lab and went to the window to make sure that they had my order. They did and instructed me to wait so I sat down. It was then that the door to the lab opened and it was Nicole.

Nicole the lab tech is a ball of beautiful, charming and sweet stuffed into a tiny 5 foot 1 inch package. I haven’t seen her since I started dialysis (the clinic does most of my lab work now) and I was really happy to see her. As it turns out she was happier to see me as she gave me a huge hug.

“Oh my god, we were just talking about you the other day!” she said.
“Anything good?” I replied.
“Only that we were hoping you were doing well. We miss your humor around here.”

She completed filling the 8 (yes, 8) vials of blood for the labwork, walked me to the door and gave me another hug. At that point my day had transformed into a good one.

Then it got better. Lauren from the infusion center walked in.

Lauren was once the topic of an entire blog. Gorgeous, smart, funny…and married. That little detail always left me unfazed and when I was getting my infusions I shamelessly flirted with her. She didn’t mind, in fact I think she enjoyed it. Here she was, discussing a patient with Nicole. As she turned to walk out she instantly recognized me. I was awarded my third huge hug of the day.
“I can’t believe you remember me” I said.
“What? Forget you? Never.”
“Is that a good thing?” I inquired.
Everyone always asks about you.”
“Can I go in and say hi?”
“Sure. I have to go take care of something so wait in the waiting area and I’ll come out when I can to get you.”

I followed her to the infusion center and patiently waited.

to be continued…

What's your word?

I heard a radio host yesterday asking people to call in and define 2019 in one word. “Tumultous”and”chaotic” were used frequently. Myself, I choose “disappointing”.
I am disappointed in our lack of respect for human life as first responders are targeted for death, people are beaten and killed over the color of their skin and innocents are being slaughtered over failed political and religious ideology.
I am disappointed in the pursuit of money, power and belongings at the sake of character, integrity and morality.
I am disappointed in our fascination with celebrity without merit, gossip without respect for boundaries and the idea that bad behavior is acceptable if it accomplishes your selfish agenda.
On a personal note, I am disappointed in myself for losing the optimism I once had so much of, that I let life get to me this year instead of customarily plowing through the pile of horseshit looking for that pony that must be in there somewhere.
I hope that next year is better, if nothing else that people stop being ugly to each other and we start treating each other as brothers and friends we have yet to make. And I hope that I get back my power to create my situation instead of being defined by it. And I hope that anyone who suffered through this post has a great 2020.

What’s your word to describe 2019?

A New Year's Toast for all

Raise a glass…

to the parents struggling to care for their family. May they be able to provide sustenance and love for the children

to the first responder running towards danger when others run from it. May you always stay safe

to the soldier thousands of miles from those that love them. May your mission be righteous and your body unscathed

to the healthcare workers who do more for others than they do for themselves. May their selflessness be recognized and appreciated

to the bullied child. May your struggles be recognized before it’s too late

to the bully. May you see the error of your ways

to the ill. May you experience recovery

to the grieving. May you experience closure and peace

to the hungry. May your plate always be full

to our leaders. May they do what is right, not what is profitable or electable

to the disenfranchised, the angry and the frustrated. May you find an outlet and peace in your heart

to the practitioners of hate and division. May you become part of the solution, not part of the problem

to those that chose the path of honesty and integrity. May you never be caused to second-guess that choice

to those who are hopelessly glued to screens. May you look away and see the beauty all around you

to those fighting a hard battle. May the people you meet treat you with kindness and respect.

Here’s to a better you. A better us. A better world. It’s up to us to make it a good year.

Here’s to you.

A year has passed…conclusion

October 4, 2018
I woke up to a team of Doctors standing at the foot of my bed. It was early. or at least it seemed like it was. I hadn’t slept much the night before. The head doctor began listening to my lungs, feeling my legs, being a general nuisance as the rest of the white smocks scribbled frantically on their notepads.
“You won’t remember me, sir but I’m the doctor that was on duty the night you came in.” He was looking me dead in the eye. “I’m having a hard time believing that I’m looking at you right now. You were that close.”
“That’s what I keep hearing.”I said. “I must have been in bad shape.”
“Bad shape doesn’t begin to cover it. You were on the edge of death. How do you feel now?”
“Grateful.”
“You’ve been given a second chance . Take advantage of it. You may be going home in a couple of days if you feel up to it. You need to walk for me before I sign your release.”

I rolled out of bed, with difficulty of course, struggled to my feet and began to slowly walk out the door. The team followed me out and watched as I walked to the nurses station and back. I was wobbly but I did it.
The doctor asked me when I had mastered that, to his knowledge I had failed the day before.
“Last night while everyone was sleeping.” It was then that I noticed Olivia had joined the group.
“Bill is a determined one” Olivia offered. I smiled at her. The team left my room.
“I want to go home.” I told her.
“A couple more days I think. Your fever is still erratic.”
“I can’t take being in bed anymore.”
Her concession was to sit me up in a chair where I spent almost the entire next two days. I continued to try to put the pieces together.

It was my ex wife that filled in the holes for me. She painted a vivid picture for me of what it was like to see me like that. She had visited me every day, I was impressed. At one point or another all of the kids had come to visit me. Unfortunately they all came when I was sedated. The sight of me with a breathing tube, unconscious was a bit much for my youngest daughter. My oldest son, who was on his way to visit his girl friend, was told to turn around. He asked why he couldn’t come in the morning. He was told “Because your father might not make the night.” Of course he rushed there.

October 6, 2018
I was released in the morning. Mom came to pick me up. When I got home I sat on the deck, enjoying some natural sunlight for the first time in 11 days, and opened my mail. The first letter I opened was from Medicare. My health Insurance had been cancelled. Effective that day. Turns out my SSDI had gotten approved and I was now fucking rich and wasn’t eligible for state assistance anymore. I tore it up and went inside.

I had just fallen asleep in my recliner only to be woken by my mother’s best friend Arlene.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again, Billy. Welcome home you tough bastard.”
“Was I really that bad?!” I asked. It seemed I was asking that to a lot of people. Her face said it all.
Many more townsfolk would say that very thing to me in the ensuing days. They all thought I was going to die.

There are lot of takeaways from this whole incident. I was grateful and impressed with the Hospital. I was thankful for the support of family and friends. I awoke one morning in the dialysis room only to find one of my 3AM buddies Jeff next to me patiently waiting for me to wake up. He had been there for 45 minutes watching me sleep. Now that’s a friend. Later that night two more great friends and their wives visited me. They sat for hours with me, they walked the halls with me, supporting my weight when I wavered. Of course I’m haunted by the way they were looking at me. The words “Dead Man Walking” came to mind. They were scared and it was disconcerting. But overall I am moved and eternally grateful to them for the visit. It really meant the world to me.

Another takeaway is that I am proud to have been gifted with toughness and a survival instinct. In order to survive, one must have a reason. I must have had plenty of reasons to defy the odds, as I was told so many times that I did just that.

I’m a fighter. I’m stubborn and I never quit. This incident is just more evidence that it wasn’t my time. I’m not ready for a dirt nap. My life is compromised but it is not over. I have weddings to go to and Daughters to give away. I have grandchildren to meet and motorcycle rides with my boys. I believe that in my lifetime there may be a cure down the road for me. I want to be there if it does.

My last takeaway? Even if I wasn’t awake, my ability to fight death is there and it is stron. Even unconscious, I do not fear dying.

I fear not living. And that is a powerful thing.

I’m also grateful to be here to tell this story, and that is also a powerful thing.

A year has passed…cont’d

September 28, 2018.
I awoke in a trauma center room full of beeping machines, staring and inquisitive medical staff, lots of plastic curtains and my ex-wife, oldest daughter and my mother.

You can catch up here.

“Where are the 2 fat firefighters?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s fine” she said. She then began to laugh, if you could call it that. A nervous laugh of relief if anything. My wife had buried her face in her hands.

Very confused and in a bit of a haze, I asked why they reacted as they did. As it turns out, the Dr. had just cautioned them that when I awoke there was a distinct possibility that I could suffer some type of cognitive loss. My first words after being medically sedated for 2 days being a joke, they were convinced that I was ok.

But of course I wasn’t.

It took me a while to piece together the events of the previous 3 days. I had no recollection of them so I had to rely on accounts from my mother and my medical team. Both were being light on details and, even in my foggy state I knew that it wasn’t good. Initially, all I was able to learn was that I was rushed to a local hospital that was ill-equipped to treat me and sent me away after dousing me in ice to lower my fever. Which, by the way, was measured at 104.9, a fever that a man my age rarely survives. I was then taken 65 miles away to a hospital with a Trauma center and immediately heavily sedated as they worked to control the septic infection ravaging my body. I was sedated for 2 full days. At one point my mother was asked if I had a Medical Proxy and a Advanced Directive, AKA a DNR (Do not resuscitate.

My Dr. confirmed and explained Sepsis to me and the reasons for Sedating me for 2 days. Apparently I was extremely fitful as I was being treated and I kept tearing the breathing tube out (that was the first time I realized I had had a breathing tube). He was very focused on my treatment regimen going forward. My mother was light on details, she was very upset by the ordeal. It wasn’t until I spoke to the Night Nurse, a real good guy that worked every night that I was in ICU. I explained to him my need for info and my confusion about what had happened to me. He took off his glasses and sat down next to me.
“A guy doesn’t get any closer to the other side than you did. We’re all amazed at your recovery. We thought we lost you.”
“Really?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, if I wasn’t a religious man before I would be now.” He paused. “It was that close.”
I could do nothing but stare at the white ceiling.
“And you’re not out of the woods yet.”

What followed was a full week of restricted bed rest. I was severely limited in how much I could move because I had a temporary dialysis port put in my hip that was in danger of rupturing causing me to bleed out. For 4 long days they ran every antibiotic known to mankind through me until my fever stopped spiking. By Sunday I was able to be moved to a regular room.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The infection wasn’t done yet. I had several relapses plagued by sweating spells and rampant chills in no particular order. I wasn’t able to eat much. I was still forced to stay prone in bed, it would be 2 days before I could even sit up. I was in a private room but there was nothing private about it, nurses and teams of doctors were in there constantly monitoring my every function. My only reprieves, as it were, were my dialysis sessions upstairs.

Eventually I did stabilize, much of it was a blur. I did have plenty of time to get to know the nurses as I recovered. In addition to their youth and attractiveness they were very friendly and good at their jobs. I struck a rapport with a few, one in particular couldn’t get enough of my jokes and my story. She came in every time she had a minute and asked me more questions about my Chronic illness journey. Her name was Olivia.

On day 9 Olivia came in with the physical therapy team. They were tasked with getting me to walk. I had been bed-ridden for 8 days and it was amazing how atrophied my muscles were. 3 nurses got me to the hallway with the goal of walking to the end and back. I was only able to support myself for 3 steps and I collapsed. I would try 2 more times that day and I fared only slightly better then. I was returned to bed. Olivia told me that they wouldn’t consider letting me leave, fever vanquished or not, until I could walk.

By the end of that night I was able to walk the hallway end to end twice before collapsing into bed again.

to be continued

A year has passed…

Sunday, September 23, 2018.
I awoke at about 9:30 PM. My chest hurt. I carefully felt the taped area around the plastic port in my chest. It was tender to the touch. I went to the bathroom mirror and pulled down my shirt to look at it. What appeared to be a pimple next to my port caught my eye. I squeezed and popped it. Immediately, I was overcome by the most powerful chills I had ever experienced. I began to shiver to the point of quivering. My teeth were clacking. It was miserable. I went downstairs to my recliner and threw the biggest blanket I could find over myself. The trembling was uncontrollable. Finally, I warmed up enough for the chills to stop. I braved the trip back upstairs and I curled up under the blankets, freezing again. After 10 or 15 minutes I managed to make it stop and remained in that position until morning.

Monday, September 24, 2018.
I spent most of the day under a blanket but I managed to get downstairs and eat something. I felt awful. Mom was concerned but knew that if I needed help I would tell her.

That evening I was worse. I was curled up on the spare bedroom bed in the fetal position under 3 blankets when Mom came in and asked if I felt well enough for her to go out for a few hours.
Take me to the hospital! raced through my brain. Stupidly I instead said,
“Go ahead, I’m fine.”
At some point I made my way upstairs. I was feeling worse. The tremors were nearly uncontrollable. I crawled into bed. I vaguely remember soiling myself but I didn’t get up. The thought of getting out from under the blankets, my only salvation, was unbearable.
Call 911, you’re going to die! my brain screamed at me.
I don’t want to move, I can’t. If I die I die, a voice answered back. It’s over.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
“Bill, wake up! You’re going to be late for dialysis!” I heard my mothers voice faintly. It took me a moment to realize she was at the base of the stairs. I looked around, I was on the bathroom floor. I forced myself to my feet and then immediately collapsed. At the sound of my crashing to the floor she raced upstairs. Mom assisted me to the bed, all the while asking me if I was ok, if I was able to get up and get ready. I answered her by falling forward and landing again on the floor. The next thing I remember was being hoisted off of the floor of my bedroom by two heavy firefighters. They needed my help to get me onto the stretcher. I had nothing to offer. They picked me up, placed me onto the stretcher. My arms flopped lifelessly from both sides of the stretcher as they struggled to get me down the narrow stairs from my loft.

I was brought to a waiting ambulance. I vaguely remember the chirp of the band radio in the ambulance, being asked a bunch of questions, having my soiled clothes cut off of me, the bumps of the ambulance banging around the bumpy side roads, some commotion as I was treated and begging for a blanket. I was cold. So very, very cold…

To be continued…

The curator of my America

Nabokov called his talents “banal” and a waste of brilliant technique. The highbrow art critics called his work “bourgeois” and “kitsch”. He was unjustly called an illustrator instead of an artist. Norman Rockwell didn’t care. He painted what he wanted to and gave the people what they wanted in his idealistic, sentimentalistic portraits. Over the course of 47 years and 323 original works, his perceptive, nostalgic eye for his America graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Born in New York, he eventually made his way to New England. He first lived in Vermont and eventually landed in the small Western Mass town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He did most of his painting there, eventually immortalizing small town life through his ongoing commitment to illustrating the cover or The Saturday Evening Post, consequently showing the world his views on life through his works.

I was 12 when he died. I remember my Grandmother being deeply upset. It was then that I made the connection between the magazine covers that littered her coffee table and the wonderful artist behind them. An aspiring artist myself, I was fascinated by his technique.

As I got older I began to appreciate his work even more. I moved from admiring the technique of Rockwell’s work to the subject matter behind it. His portrayals resonated with me. The magic of Christmas…


Rockwell always brings me back to a time when Christmas was about family and neighbors. The one time of year when everyone was always nice to each other. When people Caroled, drank Eggnog and a gift was appreciated, be it a hand made pasta sculpture from a small child or a simple card. We weren’t valued by the extravagance of our gift.

Rockwell was most famous for his Christmas works but so many other of his recurring themes impacted me. The fun, and difficulties of being a child (and remember that his was a much simpler time…

young love
a boy and his dog
the runaway

He didn’t shy away from controversial subjects either and he took heat about it but remained unfazed…

He was once told that his depictions of racial relations would get him banned. He insisted to the Post that if he was censored he would walk away. He was allowed to continue. He was a man of conviction.

I was raised with his values of post-Depression, post-war frugality and conservatism. Waste not, want not was a daily mantra. My parents and grandparents fixed things when they broke, they didn’t throw them away. They “darned” socks with holes, they didn’t buy new ones. In a time of burgeoning rampant consumerism and pursuit of the next “new” thing, they were firmly planted in the “old times”; a simpler way of life that simply made sense. I truly loved that mentality, to this day I reject the “new is better” mindset.

Rockwell, during those times, stuck faithfully to the old ways, he continued too portray the America that he knew and likely sensed that he was to be a curator of them lest they be forgotten. When a horse drawn wagon rode alongside a new-fangled “car”. When children played in the street without fear of boogeymen. When people knew, respected and loved their neighbors.

I often muse that I was born in the wrong era. I would have loved to have grown up in Rockwell’s ’20’s.
Baseball was played for the love of the game, not massive contracts.
A time when men and women dressed in suits and dresses when going out in public.
A time when families ate dinner together every night.
A time when children played safely outside, in a neighborhood where people knew, cared about and supported each other.
A time when Doctor’s made House calls.
When civility and manners ruled the land.

I long for a return to these days but I know they will never return. That is why I have the Rockwell’s Coffee Table Books at the ready. As far as I’m concerned they have never been more relevant.