Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Obama Got Elected

With this post in my blog I will cautiously wade into the perilous waters of political discourse. With this I am breaking a promise to my mama. She told me to never discuss politics, religion, or football, and doing so, would assure that I would avoid many unpleasant discussions. But, I have on occasion, ignored my mamas good advice before.

Recently there has been discussion concerning a viewpoint that is presented by a web site ( The basic idea with this right wing site is that the Media was totally in the bag for Obama, and thus swayed the voters. I do not know if this is the case. I do not buy into conspiracy theories from either side of the political spectrum.

Now, many of my stories are simple snapshots of moments in my life. Sure the "anecdotal incident" often carries little weight, when compared with national polls and statistics. But allow me to tell a personal story that may suggest a pathway that may have played a large roll and may indeed explain in part, how Barack Obama won the election. If my single anecdotal incident were repeated over and over one can see how important this may be.

It was just months away from the 2008 presidential election, and I was enjoying the last few hours with my son, before I am to drive him to the airport for his return to Iraq where he was to finish his Army National Guard deployment. He was wanting a haircut, one of those "high and tight" style like the soldiers maintain.

Now in my small town, there are only three barber shops. As we are short on time, I take my son to the nearest location. A little barbershop with a single barber in a neighborhood setting. Inside, there was a boy of about 12 years in the chair getting his mullet trimmed. An elderly gentleman in bib-overalls was in one of the waiting chairs. I assumed the older gentleman was with the young boy and did not look in need a haircut, so we assumed the wait would be a short one, so we took a seat in the waiting chairs as well. The barbershop is owed by a retired Navy man and there are cute little signs on the wall with politically loaded sayings. It was obvious we were in a "Republican" barbershop. This is great, as I assume the Navy guy, should be able to give a good military haircut.

It was impossible to avoid tuning into the conversation coming from the young boy in the chair. I swear! He was channeling Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly, and a bit of Glenn Beck all rolled up into one mess. He indeed was channeling the strange creature known as the Rushbillobeck.

He carried on with his conversation with a non-stop slam-fest of Barack Obama, Democrats and Liberals, with his barber, stopping frequently to listen to the points made my the young boy, while the old man nodded in obvious pride and agreement. At this rate this haircut would take quite a while and we were on a short timeline. I looked at my son, dressed in his BDU's and I could tell that he was not enjoying listening to the diatribe coming out of the mouth of the young Rushbillobeck. I needed to find a way out. So I lean over to the older gentleman and asked him if he was in line for a haircut. He stated, he was right in line after his grandson.

Well that was my opportunity to make an exit. I let the barber know that we had a pressing appointment and would have to seek our haircut elsewhere. Out the door and down the road we go to the next barber shop. My son is simply hoping to get a haircut, and get off to the airport to finish his deployment in Iraq, without any political discussion. But, you know how it can be in barber shops.

Next shop had a portly, white haired, elderly barber, and there was no waiting. My son asked him if he can give a good military cut, and the gentleman barber with his rich southern accent said that he certainly could. As the barber is prepping him for the cut, he is asking about his service. My son explains that he is heading back to Iraq. The barber thanks him for his service to his country. My son replies with a "Thank You Sir".

Some minutes go by while the barber starts trimming. Then out comes the question my son certainly did not want to hear.... Sooo.... who you gonna be voting for in the presidential election? I stiffened in my chair as I knew the fairly liberal stance of my son and I knew that he was an Obama supporter. I am bracing for what may come out of this barbers mouth when he hears my son's response. All of a sudden it was feeling very warm in the barbershop. My son paused a bit before answering, contemplating the conversation that would soon transpire, that he would simply rather avoid. This being a barber shop in a small town in the Bible Belt in the South, well... we rightly assumed this gentleman to be a Republican.

My son looked directly at the barber and stated, "I will be voting for Barack Obama". The electric razor became silent, the room was stifling, and the barber was silent. Then a short grunt came from the portly barber, and then he uttered the following very surprising words! "Yup, I think I am gonna have to vote for the "Nigger" as well." We were both totally taken aback by the response from this southern gentleman barber. No further discussion ensued, except for my son thanking the southern gentleman barber for the dandy haircut, and the barber thanking my son again for his service to our country. We were both cracking up as soon as we got into the car.

And Barack Obama won the election.... How did Back Obama win the election? Good question. From this single anecdotal incident, I witnessed an obvious "southern born" elderly gentleman, who was so very comfortable with calling the African Americans, "Niggers" that I would, and could not ever imagine this gentleman to be a vote for the democratic party, let alone for an African American! I wonder how many similar defections from the Republican ranks were out there?

Now whether this gentleman barber was fed up with the wars, or was tired of the tax breaks for the rich during war time, or one of the many other problems of the Bush administration, or was he simply put off by the Palin/McCain campaign, I do not know. But his words certainly hinted that the nation and indeed the south very well may be looking at a groundswell change.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Parodies on Hitler and the movie "Fallen"

I am not sure who did the first re-subtitling of the movie "Fallen", but this meme has been very popular on YouTube and is probably the most used movie for this type of parody. The particular scene from this movie that is used in many parodies or rewriting of the subtitles is a scene of Hitler in his bunker during the last few days before he commits suicide. In a clip of only a few minutes, you see Hitler going from being strong and confident, to him melting down over hearing bad news, going into a rage, and eventually resigning himself to the inevitable. Quite a range of emotions.

Now remove the subtitles, and use any video editing software, such as Windows Movie Maker, Adobe After Effects, Corel Videostudio to apply new subtitles so that Hitler is now talking about any subject you wish. A simple search on YouTube will yield dozens of remakes with subjects ranging from sports, to gaming, to politics and more. Some are really funny and some can be quite offensive, so viewer beware!

My first two efforts at re-subtitling was a lot of fun and I used themes that were a bit more personal to me rather than trying to deal with some broad issue. My first video deals with how the weather has been very poor for hang gliding in Arkansas, and of course, Hitler plays a central role. The second video has two themes in one video. My son's recent motorcycle accident and Hitler's desire to have tickets to the Arkansas Razorbacks Football game, woven into one story.

I hope you enjoy the videos below.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Can't Find My Cell Phone!

The wife and I are now empty nester's. Our boys have all moved off to the big city of Fayetteville, Arkansas and are pursuing their own lives, leaving us now to rattle around in too much house.

So we are bustling about, getting ready to make a trip up to the big city of Fayetteville, Arkansas to visit the boys. As usual, we are running late and are haphazardly throwing our necessities together for our weekend visit. Not much for checklists, we simply ask each other over and over; "have you seen my this or that", or "do we need to take these", or "why are you taking that"? We usually stumble our way through and somehow we get our stuff together, but today is worse than usual.

Sue just got in from work, I am on the phone with Justin as he is setting up a dinner date at one of the many great places to eat in Fayetteville, and needs a time that we will be there. He is pressuring us to get on the highway. I am telling him that we should be leaving within 15 minutes or so, while yelling back to Sue.... "Make sure you have my toothbrush", while Justin starts talking about a video on YouTube about this sleepwalking dog, I am looking for my wallet, while Sue is toting bags out to the car, giving me a dirty look, she retorts, "Can you help carry these bags out?", while I find my wallet, and pack my computer, I cannot find my phone! "Sue... have you seen my phone. I know I had plugged it into the charger last night! Sue is back in grabbing more bags, and I get another dirty look, as she hears me talking on the phone about the sleepwalking dog with Justin... As she walks out the door with the bags, I again ask her if she has seen my phone... She stops and looks at me with a blank look, shakes her head.... "Your talking on your phone!"

Now I suppose this could be called a senior moment. But then again I have heard from others accounting of how they were looking for keys that are in their pocket, looking for purses, that are on hanging from their shoulders, and yes... even looking for their phone, while it is affixed firmly to their ear.

Blame it on our busy life, that is filled with Cell Phones, Pagers, Computers, and more. But I can remember when I was a child, laughing at my father, before cell phones, pagers, and computers, as he went from room to room cussing about not being able to find his hat. He would not go anywhere without his hat. Of course.... his hat was on his head!

My Phone of Choice: Apple's I-Phone.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trails, Guns and ATV's

It all seemed like a pretty good idea. Establish a network of trails in a beautiful area of the Ouachita National Forest near Mena, Arkansas that would be primarily for All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and Off-road Vehicle (ORV) use. There were very few trails in the Ouachita National Forest that were specifically designated for ATV and ORV use. I believed that having trails established specifically for ATV's would be good for ATV enthusiasts as well as the other users of the National Forest. I had been riding this area for a number of years on my mountain bike prior to it becoming an ATV Trails system and enjoyed riding the old logging roads and enjoyed the beautiful woods and the many clear creeks.

Although I did not ride ATV's, I had been involved with other similar projects, (establishing new trails) working as a volunteer to build mountain biking and hiking trails within the Ouachita National Forest. The grand opening was a great success with a large number of ATV's showing up to ride in the "Wolf Pen Gap ATV Recreation Area".

The first year for Wolf Pen Gap ATV Trails was going well with no problems, and looked to be a great success. But, as can often happen, not all issues had been thoroughly considered. Deer season was approaching and the Ranger District had not taken into consideration, the impact and the potential adverse interaction between the deer hunters and the ATV riders.

This area had been a very popular deer hunting area for decades. There were many primitive deer camps, along the creeks, and deer hunters would claim their camps days ahead of deer season. Now on this, the first day of the first year of dear season in the "Wolf Pen Gap ATV Recreation Area", there was unrest in the woods. Reports were coming into the Ranger District. ATV riders were complaining that while they were riding, they had some hunters aim their rifles at them. Deer hunters were complaining that there were ATV's buzzing all about their deer hunting area, and scaring the deer away.

After the deer season was over, the Ranger district invited deer hunters and ATV riders to attend a meeting to have an open discussion on how best to resolve this situation in the future. I did not want to miss this and as it was open to the public, I attended the meeting.

It went basically like this. The hunters made a very emotional plea, proclaiming very loudly that they have hunted in the this area all of their lives. Just like their daddy and like their daddy's daddy. The ATV riders proclaimed that there are hundreds of square miles of open forest for hunting and the Wolf Pen Gap Area represented only a fraction of a percent of the National Forest and that it should not be open for hunting. Of course the hunters felt they should have exclusive access during deer season, restricting the ATV's from this area during hunting season. My opinion at the time was that as this area had now been established as an ATV recreation area, that it should be that. In the same way that hunting is not allowed in other National Forest Recreation Areas and State Parks due to the heavy concentration of people, the same should be considered for the new ATV park.

So now it was time for the National Forest to make a decision as to how this would be handled in the future. They decided that the ATV's would be restricted during deer season. Following this ruling I took time to discuss this decision with the Ranger, and told him that I found it curious that ATV's (at that time) were allowed to ride anywhere in the National Forest unless it was specified otherwise, even during deer season. Now we have decided that the only place that the only place the ATV's cannot ride during deer season is within the "ATV Recreation Area". This seemed to be an odd decision... but his logic for this policy was that the hunters had guns. He just wanted to avoid any conflicts.

One last curiosity with this affair, was that after the hunters got their way in excluding ATV's from ATV Recreation Area, they then wished to be able to use their own ATV's in the area during deer hunting season. At least on this issue the Ranger District stood ground and stated their would be no ATV use by anyone in the Wolf Pen Gap Recreation Area during deer season.

This was many years ago, and the tensions between hunters and ATV riders have moderated.
The Wolf Pen Gap Recreation Area, now faces other challenges, but that will be discussed in a later blog.

Related Links Ouachita ATV Adventures Mena, Arkansas Ouachita National Forest Service Arkansas Game and Fish Ouachita ATV Riders Club

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baby Sitting for my Daughter Inlaw.

My wife and I are yet to have any grandchildren. I am 56 years old and me and the little lady are getting a bit anxious to have a grand baby, but the boys do not seem to be in any kind of hurry. One aspect of grand parenting I look forward to, is serving as occasional baby sitter. But I sensed a little reservation on behalf of my daughter in law about me serving as a baby sitter in the future.

So, I thought to help build her confidence, I would volunteer to babysit her little Pomeranian Puppy as a means of gaining some trust. I figure if I can prove to be a good dog sitter, then that should build some confidence in my ability to be a good baby sitter. You see, she makes a few trips each year out to Southern California (work related), and is always in need of a puppy sitter. I volunteered my services. She was reluctant, but eventually caved in for one of her trips. I think she simply ran out of options.

So it would be me and the puppy (Maximus) alone for 10 hours a day for three days. What to do with all that spare time. Well he is a darling little pooch and you cannot help but loving him, but I do enjoy having a bit of fun. I could tell my daughter in law was a little concerned as she left her puppy with us, but I assured her I would take good care of him....

Now the best way to tell the story of those three days is to show the "video evidence" that I have submitted to YouTube. I will have to explain, that my life on a daily basis is lesson in multitasking. Watching the news, talking on the phone, taking care of my customers on-line, watching some videos, and one can become distracted. This to the peril of the little puppy Maximus.

Let the Antics Begin!
Click Below to See

No Puppies were harmed in the making of this video.

My First Hang Glider

I cannot remember which magazine it was that I saw the photo. It was probably Popular Science or Popular Mechanics. But the image had an immediate effect on me. I can remember the large triangular shaped craft hanging in the air with a guy hanging from the bottom. Well.... this certainly looks interesting. The article spoke about the new sport of Hang Gliding. You could buy these plans, and be flying in just a few days. Well that sounded pretty good, but I figured it may be best to find out as much info as I could before "jumping" in.

I was living in San Bernardino California, and after some research I located a company in Sylmar California called Free Flight Systems. They were not offering plans, but would sell instead, a kit with all the parts needed to build your own for $250.00, or they would sell a complete glider for $500.00. They also offered lessons!

They told me that if I could round up a half dozen people for lessons, that they would come up to San Bernardino and provide the equipment and lessons at $25.00 per person. A week later I and almost a dozen others were seeing our first hang glider. Our instructor, Rico Blair gave a demo flight off of the 500 ft. Little Mountain, located right in the middle of San Bernardino. We were all quite amazed at his 2 minute flight. Then it was off to find a training hill.

We gathered on a small hill on Kendal Drive. There was a 20 foot high slope and another hill at about 30 ft. Rico spent a good amount of time showing us how to assemble the gliders, gave a short explanation as to how these aircraft flew, and then taught us all that we would need to know to make our first efforts at trying to fly. One by one, a student would pick up the glider and with a million things running through their minds, they would run down the slope with hopes of flight. Some never got air born, and would run all the way down the hill like a giant Gooney Bird. Others would become air born for only a moment and then would stall, and thump to the ground skinning knees and elbows. Then it was my turn.

I pull on the harness and helmet, hook into the glider, pick it up and wait for instructions from Rico. I am watching some wind streamers on the hill and at the bottom that indicates from what direction the breeze is coming. Rico wants me to wait until the wind is straight in when I make my effort to launch.

After a few minutes of waiting, the light wind starts blowing in straight. Wings level... Rico tells me to lower the nose a bit... nose pointing into the wind... Rico says I am clear to launch and tells me to run hard.

I start running down the hill, and I feel the wind filling the billowing sailcloth, and then my feet leave the ground. Not wanting to experience the stall as I had observed others perform, I pulled in a little bit on the control bar, and I could immediately feel the speed of the glider pick up. And just a couple seconds later, it is time to land. Rico had told us that as our feet approach the ground we would need to flair the wing by pushing out on the control bar.

I pushed out and pulled off what was the first really successful flight of the day with a two step landing. I had several other flights that day, all with great success. The smile on my face could not be any larger. A few others caught on and I could tell that they too were hooked. The bulk of the students left that day probably electing NOT to become hang glider pilots.

That evening after helping to disassemble the training gliders, I and a couple others talked with Rico about purchasing gliders from Free Flight Systems. I chose to go with the kit, while the others could afford the fully assembled. We got to select our custom sail designs and colors and would be waiting a couple of weeks for our sails to be sewn and then the gliders would be ready for pickup.

The kit consisted of a number of large diameter aluminum tubes. These would have to be cut to length according to the plans. There was also a large collection of aircraft quality bolts and nuts, and a large spool of aircraft cable that would have to be cut to various lengths. There was also some copper tubing that would be used to make bushings. Also supplied were a couple of special tools. One tool was used to compress the nicos for securing the cables through thimbles and onto tangs. The tangs would be attached to the various points of the frame. Where the bolts passed through tubes, an over-sleeve of tubing would be secured in place with the copper bushing for extra strength. The bushing flange was made with the special flairing tool provided. Fortunately the sail was complete and would only need to have the tubes inserted and secured to the frame. It took me two days to build my first hang glider. It looked great!

The very next weekend my brother and I were out at the training hills. Within a week I was flying of the 500 ft. Little Mountain.

This was a very exciting decade in which to fly hang gliders. Manufactures sprung up everywhere, and every year there would be the need to buy the "Next Generation" of glider. These were also some very challenging days as well. Not all the designs were entirely sound, and the casualty rate was very high. Some pilots took unnecessary risks and would pay dearly for their lack of caution with injuries or death. Some just made mistakes and did not understand weather conditions and would find themselves in terrible predicaments. I am glad to have participated in the first decade, but am also simply glad that I survived. I credit Rico Blair for being an excellent instructor, and also a great mentor through the first few years.

Now close to 4 decades later, the hang gliders that we fly are amazing and provide soaring craft that are aerodynamically sound, with excellent performance. There are excellent training programs throughout the world. And now with the recent advent of the Paraglider, we now have another option for foot launching from the mountains.

Related Links

Ouachita Hang Gliding- Where I currently do most of my flying

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where There Is Fire... There May Be A Smoker!

I was working the night shift at the small town hospital as the Director of Respiratory Therapy. The night shift only required one therapist, so I was performing the routine therapies for patients requiring therapy through the night. It was a slow night and we did not have many patients requiring therapy. This slow night would suddenly be broken up with an emergency situation that I had not encountered before. My pager sounded off, and I called the operator to be informed that there was a fire in the Emergency Room parking lot. I asked if they had already called the local Fire Department, and they stated that they had, so I headed for the Emergency Room parking lot.

Now I should explain that at the time in this small hospital, the respiratory therapist duties often included areas that were certainly outsider the normal duties of a respiratory therapist. At this time the night duty respiratory therapist would not only be responsible for the respiratory care of the patients, but would also be called for security issues, and in charge of monitoring the boiler room, and we were also to respond to fires.

As I headed for the sliding doors providing access to the parking lot, I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall. In the parking lot, I locate a vehicle that has smoke coming out of the hood. I check inside the car to confirm there was nobody in the vehicle. Now to deal with the fire. I peered into the grill of the vehicle and could see some small flames. It was an older vehicle and I would be able to pop the hood if it was not too hot. I released the hood and it popped up enough for me to be able to direct the fire extinguisher at the flames. A short blast from the extinguisher and the flames went out.... but seconds later re-ignited.

The fire did not look large and did not look to be spreading fast, so I just kept dousing the flames when they would re-ignite, trying to avoid depleting the extinguisher. I could hear the sirens of the local fire department on their way. As soon as they arrived they quickly took over and were able to completely extinguish the fire.

I headed back into the Hospital with the spent fire extinguisher. I needed to bring a new fire extinguisher in the Emergency Room, so I was off to maintenance to exchange the extinguisher. There was nobody on duty in maintenance, (curiously that was also a duty of respiratory therapy at night... checking the boiler room of all things) so I left a note on the spent fire extinguisher stating that I had used it on the car fire in the parking lot. But as I was leaving maintenance, the mischievous light went on in my head and thought I could write a better note than what I had left.

Now it would help if you understood that the hospital had just recently enacted a long needed "No Smoking" policy throughout the hospital. I had battled for this policy for many years, and had butted heads with a particular nurse, (I will call her Ethel) who battled for years for her right to smoke in the hospital. So, I felt it might be appropriate to have a bit of fun.

I wrote another note to be attached to the spent fire extinguisher for morning maintenance shift. "Maintenance- I caught Ethel smoking in one of the bathrooms and I used this on her." I signed my name and left to finish my shift figuring the director of maintenance would enjoy my little joke.

I was at home asleep when the phone rang. It was the respiratory therapist on duty, and she stated that I needed to come in right away to talk with the Hospital Administrator. She explained that the director of nursing was very upset about the incident last night and was seeking to have me fired. She continued, explaining that I needed to come in right away to speak with the Hospital Administrator about the incident last night. I looked at the clock. It was 11:00 in the morning and I had only been asleep for a few hours. What the heck! I put out a fire, and my job is being threatened?

So I am on my way to visit the Hospital Administrator and I am perplexed as to how my putting out a fire would be a problem. The Administrator's secretary tells me to go on in, and I am instructed to have a seat next to the director of nurses and the director of maintenance. The Hospital Administrator explains the reason for calling me in was about the incident last night.... going on he expressed deep regret that I would use a fire extinguisher on one of our personnel. I looked at him try to see any hint of a grin. He looked serious. Then I looked at the directors of nursing and maintenance and they were stone faced as well. The director of maintenance was holding "The Note" in his hand.

This had to be a joke! A grand plot to pay me back for my little joke. Were they serious? Apparently so. The directors of maintenance and nursing had spent most of the morning searching the bathrooms to find the room where this evil deed had been perpetrated. They could not find the evidence and they were upset about having to spend their morning looking in all the bathrooms. They were very upset. They were sure they should have been able to find the residue left by the fire extinguisher.

I asked them if they had spoken to Ethel. They had not. I asked them if they were aware of the fire that had occurred in the parking lot early in the morning. They stated that they were aware of that. Had they heard that I had put out the fire with a hospital fire extinguisher. They stated that they had. It was still obvious they were not seeing the connection.

So I started explaining to them that my note was placed in an effort to make what I thought would be a harmless but funny joke. I apologized and stated that I did not think that anyone would take it serious. They continued to not see the humor.

The Hospital Administrator dismissed the nursing and the maintenance directors, so that he could speak to me personally. Standing up, he stated that my note was not according to policy and highly recommended that I refrain from such practice. I stated that I would... He then leaned over his desk towards me, and remarked in a hushed voice... I did think that was pretty funny though, and gave me a wink.

My 25 years working in hospital settings has made it very clear. There is nothing like a long night shift in the hospital to elicit some high jinx and practical jokes. I guess it is what I would call the ultimate in "Gallows Humor". I have a number of other curious tales from the night shift that I will share in the future.

Related Links
National Board for Respiratory Care
Fire Safety
American Lung Association

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stranded after Hang Gliding

Yup.... I was stranded.... I had just landed my hang glider after a fairly short flight off of Mount Magazine in Arkansas. Now my situation was not all that desperate. I had opted to be what is referred to as the "wind dummy", by taking a shot at an early launch. Launching before the thermals are really abundant can sometimes end up with a short flight. If you do not find a good thermal, you might be looking at a quick flight to the landing zone. But if you get up, you get a head start on the rest of the pilots.

On this day I did not have a driver, thus my vehicle was left on top. Now usually I would either radio up to the top to one of the other pilots and plead for someone to bring my truck down, but this was an unusual day. In the launch set up area was a couple of experienced pilots with new gliders and they and the other pilots were very involved with making sure their set up and launches went well. I did not want to bother them. It could be a good while before another glider showed up in the landing zone where I was. It was the middle of July and the heat was starting to turn on. I decided that I would hitch hike back to the launch. I packed my glider away. Grabbed my radio so that I could listen to the guys up top, and also grabbed the water pouch out of my flight harness so that I could stay hydrated in case I had to walk a lot in the heat. For flying long flights, the water pouch slips into the harness and a 3 foot tube routes the tube to near my helmet for easy access to the water.

I draped the clear plastic water pouch over my shoulder letting the drinking tube dangle. I clip the radio onto my trousers and I am good to go. It is a quarter mile walk out to the highway. Once there, I find walking on the pavement shoulder to be quite a bit hotter. This is not a busy highway, so I figured I might as well do some walking rather than just standing there in the heat. It is 7 miles to the the turnoff to the State Park at the little town of Havana, Arkansas. There is a convenience store there where I would be able to get a snack if needed. As the heat pounded down on my head, I certainly hoped that I would not have to walk the entire distance.

This is not a heavily traveled highway and only a few cars had passed with many minutes in between. So I keep on walking, with my thumb out hoping for the next vehicle to stop. I am about a mile down the road when I hear a vehicle downshifting.... I may be in luck! A compact sedan rolls past me belching smoke from it's exhaust and pulls over to the side of the road. It looks like a Vega or Pinto from the 1970's. I trotted towards the vehicle and a man with long stringy hair stuck his head out the window as I approached and said, "Hey! You like dogs?" I assumed that this was not a random question, and figured I would be riding with a canine. Well, I had enough of the heat and figured I could put up with a dog, so yes... I like dogs!

I approach the passenger side and see his gal in the front passenger seat. "You will have to ride in the back seat with the dogs man" says the stringy haired fellow. His gal is sliding her seat forward to allow me access to the back seat of the little two door. "Don't worry man... they won't bite" he said. Well the "They" was three full grown German Shepherds! The driver could see the concern on my face but he reassured me that they were friendly.

So I start squeezing into the back seat area. Dog number one made it clear he was not going to give up his window seat. So I slowly lowered myself in between window seat dog and dog riding in the middle. After quite a bit of shifting and grunting by both the dogs and myself we somehow made room in the rear seat. Good to go, and we are heading for Havana.

Now it really gets fun. These dogs had obviously been riding in the back of the un-air conditioned car for a number of miles. They were panting hard and loud and all three were drooling profusely. As the vehicle got up to around 55 mph, the wind coming into the windows started tossing their drool about the rear passenger area. I am getting a canine slobber shower. Stringy haired dude is busy with small talk with the gal up front, while I battle the three heavy breathers in the back.

This short drive seemed an eternity, and as I exited the vehicle at my Havana destination, the Stringy Haired Dude is laughing and says, "Hey man... the only reason I stopped is I wanted to see if anyone was crazy enough to ride in the back with my dogs." I thanked him for the ride, and was indeed grateful, but also felt like I had just been punked. I looked around to see if Ashton Kutcher was running out with a camera.

I wash my face at the convenience store and slam down a Gatorade to get the dog slobber taste out of my mouth. It is another 6 miles up to the top of the mountain. Now the traffic would really be sparse. I had not walked very far when the very first vehicle that came by came to a skidding stop on the side of the road. I approached the pickup truck wondering what adventure would await me now. The gentleman stuck his head out the window of the pickup truck and said he could give me a ride to the top if I did not mind riding in the back. He already had another passenger in the front seat. I looked in the back of the truck and noted there were no dogs and no snakes. "No problem man..... I appreciate it!" And I climbed into the truck with a bit of a concern as to whether this guy was going to scare the heck out of me by driving too fast. He had surprised me with his skidding stop, to pick me up. The drive was uneventful and I enjoyed the fresh air and no dog slobber. He even delivered me right to the Hang Glider launch area.

As I hopped out of the truck bed, his wife got out of the truck and with a very concerned look on her face she asked if I was okay? That seemed on odd question. "Yes mam, I am okay." She paused and then stated, "we usually do not pick up hitch hikers, but when I saw you, I told my husband Harry to stop, that we have to pick him up.... he is on an I.V." She glanced at my water pouch draped over my shoulder. I tried not to laugh to hard while I explained it was simply a water dispensing device from my hang glider harness. She laughed with me and started asking questions about the hang gliding as we walked towards the launch.

This day did not produce a very memorable flight for me, but instead, I was presented with a bit of an adventure during my hitch hike back to my truck. Sometimes you just do not know where the adventure will come from.
Related Links
My Related Blogs

Monday, October 5, 2009

My short experience as a swimming instructor

It was in the late 1980's and early 1990's when I dabbled in triathlons in Arkansas. The triathlon racing event would consist of racing in three different modalities; swimming, bicycling and running. As I had very poor swimming skills I chose to enter a few of these events as a team effort and compete against other 3-person-teams. With my team and I would either run or bike, and I would let one of the other team mates take care of the swimming portion. We would usually place fairly well against the other team efforts.

So I have entered my team into the Lake Degray Triathlon in Arkansas. My team was all pumped up and ready for this, when I get a call and one of my team mates (our swimmer) would not be able to participate. So I go into panic mode as I only have a few weeks to find a replacement.

I ask around at work if anyone swims and would like to be on our team. None were very interested, but one did give me a lead. She told me about our local Psychiatrist (I will call him Dr. Haines) who would swim a couple hours a few times a week at the local public swimming pool.

Well I already had a developed a friendship with Dr. Haines, but had been unaware of his swimming activity. When I approached him about the possibility of him being on our team he showed interest, but let me know that he had never swam competitively. I explained to him that the distance of the swim would be pretty short compared to distances he has been swimming, and that he would probably be looking at only 30-40 minutes in the water. My concern was that he was primarily a distance swimmer, and this would be more of a sprint. So I encouraged him to concentrate on speed over the next few weeks. I also felt that he should try to do as much swimming as possible in natural water, allowing him to settle into a rhythm rather than all the laps in a short pool.

I came up with the idea, that we would meet a few days a week at a pool of water created by a damn at Charlton Campground near Hot Springs, Arkansas. He could drive there to swim the pool and I would ride my bike there to get some workout as well, and then he could bring me and my bike back home.

So we settle into a routine. I would ride to the Charlton Campground, watch Dr. Haines swim for and hour or so. On the second day, I notice that he is taking a breath on every stroke. I encourage him to do a number of strokes and then breath.... he tries that and finds a rhythm that will work for him. Each day he got faster. He would stop swimming and ask a question.... "Hey Mike.... is my left arm dragging a bit.... I would watch closely and tell, him that everything looked fine."

The weeks passed and we are finally ready for race day. The swimmers are first in the water. Dr. Haines positions himself in the middle of the field as I had encouraged him. I did not want him to start to far back or too far forward. He is nervous, but very excited about his first competitive event. And they are off!

It did not take long for me to loose sight of him in the flailing arms and kicking legs of the 150 other swimmers so I left the beach area. Besides, I had to make sure I was ready to ride when he came up out of the water. About 30 minutes later the first swimmers are out of the water and are heading for their bikes or are tagging a partner if they were on a team effort. And the swimmers keep coming and I wait and wait.... Eventually there looks to be only about 10 swimmers left in the water. Finally Dr. Haines drags himself out of the water.... Our team is now in very poor position, but at least he made it. He did not look very happy as he approached me, and his only comment was an "expletive deleted" as he tag me. I took off hoping to regain some of the time suffered by our poor swim effort. What the heck went wrong out there I kept thinking. He looked really good in practice.

I think we still ended up placing around third place when it was over. My bike effort was good as was our runners effort and we made up a lot of time. When all was over, Dr. Haines pulled me aside and asked me why the Hell I had not told him that it would be that way..... I did not know what he was talking about. He explained that he was dunked several times by other swimmers, he lost his goggles when he got kicked in the face. He swallowed large volumes of lake water, and even had his swim trunks pulled down to his knees. He was livid, and was making it very clear that I should have told him that it would be like this. All I could say was, "How was I to know... I have never swam in one of these... I do not even know how to swim. His face turning red, he then yelled at me asking why the Hell then I was acting like I was some kind of Swim Instructor. A very harsh "expletive deleted" came out of his mouth and he stormed away to his van....

Man.... I felt bad.... We had all shared a ride to the event in his van and started wondering if we would have a ride back home. He sat and steamed in his van and we finally sheepishly climbed in. It was a very quite and uncomfortable ride back home.

As the weeks passed I felt really bad. We used to occasionally have lunch together at the hospital, and seemed to share a lot of similar ideas and had some interesting and stimulating conversation. But now, he avoided me like the plague. I had lost a friend and did not know what to do....

Some months went by, and I am having lunch alone in the hospital cafeteria. when Dr. Haines sits down with a big smile on his face and gives me a friendly "how ya doin". Fine I say, how are you! He says he is fine but would like to ask me a big favor. He explaines that there was a Tae Kwon Do tournament that he would be participating, and was wondering if I would help coach him. He gave me a deadpan stare, waiting for a response... After a few seconds I said, "Dr. Haines... I know nothing about Tae Kwon Do". Dr. Haines states, "Hey, you didn't let that stop you from being a swimming coach!" He burst out in laughter, and I laughed as well.

Once the laughing stopped, he got a serious look on his face and explained that he really did want me to be his coach. There was some kind of rule that you had to have your coach present and he was without one. They would not ask for any credentials. It was just a formality or something. I said sure! This was great! Not only would I get to see the tournament for free, but would be adding "Tae Kwon Do Instructor" to my list of talents. And most important... and I had gained a friend back.

Anyone need Swimming Lessons or Tae Kwon Do lessons? Contact Me!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Experience With "Socialized Medicine"!

It is September, 2009 and President Obama is active in pursuing health care reform legislation. I present the following blog as that this personal story certainly has context that is pertinent to this current issue. I will tell the account by simply presenting the facts of our personal experience with "Socialized Medicine". Borrowing a tag line from a particular news channel, "I Report... You Decide"!

As with our first two children, our third child was delivered at home. Why we chose home birthing will be another story. We were by all accounts having a very easy birth process. As our baby boy emerged into the world, all looked very well, he was alert, and like the others did not even cry and was at peace. As I presented the baby, with umbilicus still attached, into mamas arms, we noticed that indeed there was something gravely wrong. I recognized the leathery patch about the size of a silver dollar on the babies lower spine as something we had seen years before with our niece. Our little baby was born with Spina Bifida.

This spinal defect occurs early during the pregnancy and is often hereditary. Although it appeared that the baby had good movement in both legs, we knew that a defect at this level of the spine could have impact to his lower extremities. It presented no immediate emergency threat, but we were on the phone right away to our local general practitioner, he immediately recommended we head for Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Now it had been planned that my mother would be present for this birth, but she and her husband showed up an hour late after their three day trip from California. So Grandma and Grandpa would now be baby sitters our two other boys while we took our new baby for care. After speaking with Children's Hospital we bundled up our newborn, protecting the lesion as they recommended and headed for Little Rock. Within a couple hours after Sue delivered the baby we were on our way to Little Rock via our personal vehicle on a 3 hour trip to Little Rock.

Checking in to the Children's hospital required a very minimum amount of paper work, and our baby was admitted straight away to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. He would be scheduled for two surgeries. The first surgery would be to close the lesion on the spine, and the second surgery would be to place a Ventral Peritoneal Shunt that would assist in draining fluid from the cranium into the abdomen. (Most Spina Bifida cases will require a shunt to assist in draining excess fluid from the cranium).

Now excuse me for not providing the name of the infant.... His name is Brian, but at that time, we had yet to choose a name, thus I am referring to him simply as our baby.

We spent several days at the Ronald McDonald house across the street from the hospital making our stay much more comfortable. This was quite a blessing, as we did want to be near the hospital, and really could not afford to be staying in a hotel room.

The surgeries went well, but we would not know for months and even years as to the full impact of our babies spinal defect. As the doctors read the list of possible impacts too this child's life, all we could do was hope for the best. As the day of discharge from the hospital approached, we began to be concerned as to how we were going to survive financially as we knew that this stay in the hospital would be tens of thousands of dollars.

Now our current situation was this... Despite being employed as the Director of the Respiratory Therapy in our small town hospital, we could not afford the health insurance. Some may find this a bit hard to believe, but without revealing the meager wage at which I was employed at the time, I believe that you may soon understand.

It is discharge day.... We figure we better head down to see a financial counselor to explain to them that we were going to have a very difficult time in paying for this hospital experience. The nice lady pulled up our records and after a few seconds she said, that we had nothing to worry about... Our income was in the "poverty level" and that the hospital stay and the surgeries would all be mostly covered by Medicaid. We were surprised and speechless. As we left, we felt like we better hurry before they find that they had made a mistake...

When I returned back to work, the Hospital Director called me in and expressed his concern for our baby and how he hoped all had turned out well. He also stated that he was aware that I did not have any health insurance, and was wondering how we would be able to take care of this incident. I explained to him that fortunately, you pay me at a pay level as Director of Respiratory Therapy, that places me in the poverty range. Medicaid was covering most of the expenses. He looked dumb-founded.... He said he could not believe that. All I could say is that is the way it is. Even after this, I did not get a raise...

It does seem a curious matter to me that an allied health care worker with three years of specialized training, and 15 years experience, working as the director of a hospital department is making such a low salary that he cannot afford health care insurance for his family. In fact it is poverty level of pay. An extraordinary situation indeed.

Brian is now 21 years old and is living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He still receives some benefits from Social Security Disability and will continue to rely on Medicaid. He has part time employment. He is doing very well, but has required 2 surgeries to repair a failed shunt. He has some minor impact to his lower motor skills, but overall does very well.

I am no longer employed as a Respiratory Therapist, and found staying home and designing web sites provided a better income than the hospital could pay. My wife and I now have health insurance through her employer. The insurance is reasonably affordable with our two incomes and we have overall been pleased with the coverage. We know that this is not the case for many. Reflecting back, I am very pleased that the Medicaid program was in place as is our son Brian.

Take the time to leave a comment, or tell your own story.

Some useful links.
Spina Bifida Association
Arkansas Children's Association
Ronald McDonald House Charities
Medicaid Program
Social Security Disability Program

Monday, September 14, 2009

Homeless in Houston, Texas

You have heard about it. People being homeless. It happens, for a variety of reasons. Sue and I had been married for almost 9 years when we chose to be homeless.

We had moved from Southern California, where we had both been born and went all through school there, dated there, got married there, and overall we were very happy there. So somehow we decide to leave our idealic setting in California and move to Houston, Texas.

We had some big plans to make some big money and so on, but there was very little we enjoyed about Houston. We had purchased a nice little 2 bedroom home in Houston from the sale of our home in California and had put down a substantial down payment to keep our payments low.

Then the infamous oil embargo hit and Houston was hit hard economically. This was just another insult on top of our struggle in living in this curious city. I will not go into detail as to what we found to not suit us in this city as I do not wish to offend. It very well may have been that we were the problem. You know... the old square peg, round hole kind of thing. We were the peg, and Houston was the hole.

I was employed as a Respiratory Therapist at a hospital while Sue took on private duty sitting for a wealthy little lady. She worked nights, I worked evenings, and we rarely got to see each other. So at some point, along with my brother and his wife, we all decided to stop chasing this dream, and find something different. Find a place to live where we can own some land, and grow a garden and raise some animals. We do some research and we zero in on Arkansas, and then specifically on Mena. There was affordable land, plenty of water, and a reasonable four seasons.

So after a weekend visit to Mena, we secure some land which we will divide between Sue and I and my brother and his wife. But before we can move we need to sell our home in Houston. After visiting a realtor, we are being told that property values are in the dumps as the oil embargo has hit Houston hard. There are a lot of properties on the market and they are not moving. The value of our home has us under water. So we put it on the market and hope to sell it and maybe break even.

We are now also making payments on our property in Arkansas, and we decide that to accelerate our being able to get out of Houston, we would rent out our home and move into a cheap apartment. So we rent out the home, and are so busy coming and going with our jobs we simply do not take the time to find an apartment.

Here is how it was working. Sue spends 5 nights a week doing her private duty sitting in a very nice home, where she usually gets a full nights rest. I am roughing it in my Volkswagon Van, until we find an apartment. On the weekends we would get to be together in the van. We had moved all of our belongings into a storage unit and would access as needed. After a couple of weeks it was evident that we were not going to rent that apartment. Sue took on another job as a delivery person for eyewear to the various Optometrists in the area. Now we were making some extra money. We were now able to double up on our payment to the property in Arkansas. So we decided that this homeless life-style would work.

My day would go as such. I would go to work in the afternoon. I would tie up my dog (a boxer) to the front bumper, and provide her with plenty of food and water and a carpet to lay on. I would check on her during breaks and lunch. After my shift, I would either simply sleep in the parking lot of the Hospital in the van, or would go out and find a place in some residential area to park on the side of the road. In the morning, I would usually go to our local fitness center for a shower, and sometimes would meet with Sue to play some racquetball. Meals were right out of the little ice chest. Cereal and Sandwiches.

Sue would spend most of her day doing her delivery route and she took care of the cat in her little Dodge. A kitty litter box was behind the drivers seat, and food and water behind the passenger seat. Then at night she would be with the little lady with whom she did the private duty sitting. In the morning, she would usually join me at the fitness center.

This was actually working very well! Yes, we were homeless, but by choice. It was not for lack of money, as we easily could have stayed in our home, or moved into that cheap apartment, but we soon realized that this was working pretty well and indeed was quite convenient. We were very determined to get to Arkansas, and our sacrifice was really not a big hardship.

Now things did not always go well. I got a complaint about my dog being in the parking lot of the hospital, as well as me sleeping there, thus I moved on to greener pastures. I thought that our dog was happy and I would let her run in a big field everyday. But one day I took her out to run and she simply kept on running. I waited and waited, and searched for her, but she was gone. I think she had grown weary of the "Hippie Bus". Then there was the late night visit to my van by the police.

I had parked just a block away from where Sue worked at night. A very nice neighborhood, so I felt safe. I am almost asleep when I see the flashing lights behind the van, and a flashlight was being rapped against my window. Oh, boy.... the police.... I am in my boxer shorts and figure the police would not mind, so I throw open the sliding door and there stands a young lady officer shining her flashlight on me. Her first words... "What are you doing"? I reply, I am trying to sleep. She shines her light into the back and sees my very comfortable bed, my little ice chest and my little chest of drawers. "Why are you sleeping in your van"? This is were I sleep. I am not trying to be cute with the officer as I did not know what kind of trouble I might be in. Do you not have a home? I explained that I do, but it is rented out. I am now sure she is viewing me as totally down on my luck, and homeless. She tells me to stay put while she calls the station.

While she is in her patrol car, I am imagining I am in all kinds of trouble, and fear I could be in jail tonight and have my car towed. She returns and states, "Okay, I have checked and apparently you are not breaking any laws, but the people that live in the home you parked in front of called as they saw you park, but you never got our of your vehicle and they got concerned and called the police". I explained to her where I worked, where my wife worked and that all was good. She gave me a funny look, and suggested that I should find a better place to park. After that incident, I got permission from the fitness center to park in their lot each night.

Weekends were great. Sue and I got to sleep in the bus, and it was like a continuous camping trip. In fact it was during these interesting times that we chose to start a family. Yeah baby.... were living in our cars, let's start that family.

Sue was 8 months pregnant when we moved to Arkansas. We had lost our home in Texas. Now all I had to do was find a job, and build a home in 1 month. But that will be another story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Most Dangerous Sport!

All sports have some element of danger. Some more than others. Some sports suffer from being assessed as being more dangerous than they actually are, while others seem fairly safe, but secretly hide a dark side that is not apparent to the casual observer.

Allow me to do a rundown on activities or sports of which I have participated, and give a brief statement as to it's danger level, on my own personal anecdotal level. This is in no way based on any scientific method. Only my own personal experience.

Motorcycles- Only one serious accident on the dirt bike and was able to limp away.

Motorcycles- Only one accident on the road bike. Minor abrasions.

Skateboarding- Sue and I quit before we suffered any broken bones.

Racquetball- Only minor bruising, and occasional blood letting.

Volleyball- Sprained ankles.

Running- Plantar Faciitis.

Hang Gliding- No injuries.

Ultralight Aircraft Flight- No injuries.

Sailing- No injuries.

Bicycling- No accidents while riding on the road.

Mountain Biking- Many cuts and abrasions, and injury to neck and back.

Rock Climbing- No injuries.

Snow Skiing- No injuries.

Soccer- Sprained ankles.

Volleyball- Sprained ankles.

To be fair, some of the above activities of which I partook were only for a limited amount of time. Skateboarding was a short lived activity, thus I was lucky to not suffer any major injuries. It is my opinion, that skateboarding is probably more dangerous than many of the other activities. Other activities, I participated over a very prolonged period, so the fact that I had injuries, such as with mountain biking does not necessarily mean it is inordinately dangerous. I have flown hang gliders for over 13 years without injury, thus this activity has been a relatively safe activity for me.

Now the purpose of this little discourse is to give my opinion as to what has been the most dangerous activity or sport for me. This determination is based on a rough evaluation of the amount of time I participated in each activity, and how many injuries or how close I came to disaster in the respective activities.

And the winner is!

Well actually, none of the above... I have withheld mentioning the activity that has been the most dangerous to me. I wanted you to first form your own opinion as to which of the above are the most dangerous, and then surprise you with the activity that has been the most dangerous for me.

Drumroll please!

And the winner in the category of the most dangerous activity for Mike...


For some of you this may be a surprise, while others (some fishermen) may agree with my assessment.

I never suffered an injury while fishing, but I had 3 incidents that would qualify as a "scared the hell out of me" type experience. And these three incidents occurred with only a very limited amount of time participating in the pastime. So in retrospect, the risk to reward ratio seemed to be fairly high.

Now before I detail the "scared the hell out of me" events, I will first want to express to the fishing fanatics, that I will be the first to admit that in each of these incidents, that they were primarily my fault. No matter what we do, we must take responsibility for our own actions, and be properly versed in how to conduct the activity in a safe manner.

Event #1
I am invited to join a friend in a Bass Fishing Tournament. The weather was predicted to have a possibility for strong storms. Storms in Arkansas can build rapidly. So of course we go fishing.

Now in tournament situations, one will often tolerate higher levels of risk than normal.... So we are seeing the sky getting very dark, but my buddy is reassuring that if we hear thunder we will head for the shore. Well the first thunder was accompanied by a lightening bolt that was very close. You know the simultaneous flash and the and loud report of thunder. Could not have even counted to "One Alligator" between the loud report and the very nearby lightening bolt. My buddy was leaping for the drivers seat and firing up the engine in haste and we headed for the shore. We rode out the storm in the thick woods.

Event #2
I cannot remember why I thought it would be a good idea to take my little 12 foot John Boat to the local lake in the middle of an Arkansas December. So I am alone on the lake but have dressed appropriately to tolerate the 40 degree weather. My life preserver is nearby, and I am motoring out with my little electric trolling motor. It happened very suddenly.... The little boat suddenly riding up on a submerged tree stump. The little flat bottom boat started to pitch hard to the left, and I had only a split second to make a decision. What went through my mind was that the boat was going to capsize. My split decision was to hopefully save the boat from capsizing by leaping out of the boat.

My first response when I came up out of the water was to be pleased to see that the boat had not capsized. My second response was, to be amazed at how cold the water was... The boat was perched up in a precarious position on the stump, and I felt great urgency in getting the boat off of the stump and trying to get back in the boat without dumping it over. I am not a strong swimmer and the bulk of the heavy water-soaked coat was becoming a concern.

I was able to pull the boat off the stump pretty easily. I knew that if I was to climb in the boat it would have to be from the stern. The little electric motor was preventing me from being able to access the stern on the narrow little boat. I worked on removing the motor from the back of the boat and pitching it into the boat. Now I had room to hopefully pull myself up into the boat over the stern. With much relief, I am able to pull myself into the boat without tipping the tiny craft. I hook the little motor back up and it is a long, slow and very cold trip back to shore.

Event #3
I save the best for last! My favorite mode of fishing was to join up with a buddy and fish our local creeks in flotation tubes. A short explanation to those who are not aware of this method. Take an automobile inner tube, insert it into a canvas pouch. After inflating the tube you have a seat within the center of the tube. When deployed in the water you float about belly deep in the water, and propel yourself through the water very slowly through the water by kicking your legs. Great device for fishing the slow and shallow creeks during the summer. Now set all this aside, as my good buddy felt that on this dry summer day, we would not need the tubes and simply could wade the creek. So, off we go to wade about a 2 mile stretch of creek.

The fishing was going very well. We were about half way to our destination, and were filling up our stringers with large mouth bass. We would wade a pool of water, then walk through shallow shoals to the next pool. I wade into the next pool, and I am casting a top water spinner lure to one side of the pool and my buddy is casting to the other. This particular pool is larger than the others and it is getting pretty deep as we proceed. So I have water up to my armpits, while I continue to cast, hoping for that next hit from another largemouth and then suddenly I am under water. I had stepped off a ledge, took a dunk and quickly paddled and kicked to get my head back above water. Now to find a foothold.

As I mentioned before, I am not a great swimmer and now I am swimming (dog paddling) with one hand as my right hand was holding on to the fishing pole. Not willing to let loose of the rod, I started to swim towards the bank, hoping to find a foothold. But each time I kicked, the stringer of fish hanging from my belt would wrap around my leg. Very rapidly the weight of the fish around my leg now limited me to swimming with one hand and one leg.

Okay... one would think at this moment, that common sense would kick in and that I would toss the rod. I did not. Or maybe call out to my buddy for some assistance. I did not. Now I am having short periods where I am not able to keep my head above water. I would go under, find the bottom and kick myself up to the surface again. Again, one would think that I would call for assistance, or at least lose the pol so that I would have two hands with which to swim. I did not.

So what the heck is going on here? Well I am sad to say that it is simply the male ego that had full control of my decision making process. Now you must know this.... that my good fishing buddy and I are very competitive. We compete at fishing, (who caught the biggest or most fish), we compete at racquetball, and we compete on our mountain bikes. If my buddy beats me in racquetball, I have to hear about it for weeks. If I loose my fishing pole, he will have that as fodder to make fun of me for months. If I actually have to have him help me, I will never live that one down. At every family gathering he would make sure to tell about the time he had to save me from drowning. So the pitiful reality was this.... I was willing to risk my life rather than risk being the butt of a joke.

It was about my third time to go under. I came up and I was really starting to struggle. My stroke with my one good arm and leg was panicked and barely getting me any forward motion, when my foot struck a rock. And as quickly as I had gone under, I had found a footing.

I stood on solid ground with my head above water, catching my breath. I turned around to see where my buddy was, and his back was to me as he casually casted his lure towards the opposite bank. Apparently he was unaware of my desperate situation I was in just seconds earlier.

I untangle the stringer of fish from my leg, checked my lure, and begin casting.... Just as if nothing had happened. I knew though that I had come very close to putting myself in a very desperate position. All because of my ego.

Many years passed without me telling anyone about this incident. It was probably over a decade before I confessed to my wife and my buddy of what had transpired that day. To this day I carry that day as a reminder of how wicked our egos can be. For my wife to have lost her husband, my children their father, and my mother her son would have been a terrible senseless waste.

We get together now and reflect back and can laugh at some of the crazy things we have done. Yes, I hang glide, race mountain bikes, and more. But I no longer fish.... Some just are not cut out for extreme sports.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My First Day as a Respiratory Therapist

After graduating from High School in 1971, I took a job at the local car wash. I was making $1.25 an hour and was pleased to be employed. It was hard work, and fun but I certainly did not see myself wiping down cars for very long. My older brother had just finished a course so that he could become an "Inhalation Therapist". He got a job right away and was making $1.65 and hour. He encouraged me to take the one semester course to become an Inhalation Therapist. I asked him if I too would be making $1.65 an hour. Sure he said, and maybe even more! I was sold.... I did not know what an Inhalation Therapist was, but I was pretty sure it would beat wiping down cars.

So I enroll in the course. Part of the program was learning the practical application of our skills. We would be assigned to a local hospital and would be assigned to follow an actual Inhalation Therapist as he or she went through the daily routine. So a few days a week with our noses in books and a couple days a week seeing the practical application of the skills we were learning.

A large part of the practice is the dispensing of various inhaled medications through various devices. We would also be involved with monitoring of ventilators for post-op care or other situations that would require a patient to be on a ventilator. We would also be drawing blood from arteries to monitor the effectiveness of a patients respiration. And occasionally we would be part of a team that would assemble during emergency situations where a patients breathing or heart had stopped with our duty being to establish an airway and support breathing. Pretty interesting stuff, and you have no way to know how you are going to react to the real settings. It was all just book learning so far.

So I show up late on my first day of "Practical". Instead of being assigned to an Inhalation Therapist, I am left with the supervisor who seems a bit miffed about me showing up late. "Speedy" is what everyone called the supervisor.

So I am hanging out with Speedy as he takes calls, and takes care of paperwork. This is looking to be a pretty boring day. All the other students are out with therapists seeing some action. I did not realize that the fact that I had shown up late and was now languishing in an office watching some guy named Speedy take phone calls would actually lead me to one of the most intense days I had ever experienced.

It was late in the afternoon when Speedy got a call, and after hanging up the phone, he said, "Hey Mike, your in luck! Your going to surgery with me." Surgery? Why are we going to surgery. Speedy explained that he will be doing oximetry readings during an angiogram. He explained it all to me on the way, and requested that I just keep behind him and stay quite. So we scrub up, gown up, and I even get to wear one of the doctor masks.

The patient is awake and obviously a little anxious on the operating table. There is equipment everywhere. Most of it I did not know what it was at the time, and I was pretty overwhelmed.

This particular patient was an elderly gentleman, and had been involved in an auto accident a few days earlier. He had been recovering well but was having some irregular heart rhythms. They hoped to determine with the Angiogram if there is any damage to the heart from the accident. A catheter is inserted through the femoral artery and is advanced up the aorta to the heart, and a blood sample is drawn. Speedy processes the blood in a Radiometer Oximeter that detects the oxygen level in the arterial blood. All is going well, and Speedy processes another blood sample about every 10 minutes. Dyes are being injected through the catheter into the heart and we see live motion pictures of the heart beating and watch the blood that has the dye flow though the heart. I looked on with amazement!

It came on suddenly. Alarms were going off! The patients blood pressure was dropping. He was in tachycardia, Speedy went to the bedside with an Ambu bag to be ready to apply artificial ventilation if necessary. The patient was conscious and was very frightened and was saying "don't let me die, don't let me die!" Speedy was reassuring him that they were not going to let him die. The patients condition deteriorated rapidly.

The patient stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating. The surgeon made the decision to rapidly open the patients chest to do manual compression of the heart. Speedy was forcing 100 percent oxygen into the patients lungs with the Ambu bag while the surgeon rapidly opened up the chest with a large incision on the left chest between two ribs. The ribs were spread open to reveal the left lung. I could actually see the lung being inflated by Speedy's efforts. The surgeon reached in to do manual compressions of the heart with his gloved hand and what happened next was a surprise to everyone. A huge blast of blood exited out of the chest hitting the surgeon and the wall.

"That's it.... were done here" the surgeon stated. Speedy was told to stop the ventilation. I was in a state of shock! I was thinking to myself that I may have just seen for the very first time... a person die.

The autopsy later revealed that the patient had a cardiac tamponade. This is a condition where blood collects between the heart muscle and the thin membrane sack that surrounds the heart. Probably a result of the auto accident, and indeed would be the cause of the irregular heart rhythms. His condition became worse during the angiogram. The burst of blood was the heart wall blowing out when the surgeon attempted manual compression of the heart.

As we left surgery, Speedy asked me if I was okay? Yeah... I think so. He said most days are not like that. My first day introduction to being a Inhalation Therapist was quite an eye opener. It was no longer about me making 40 cents more an hour than if I worked at the car wash. This was dealing with real people and real life and death situations.

I spent close to three decades working as a Respiratory Therapist. There are good memories, and a lot of hard memories. That is another story.... Or maybe a whole book.

As I am no longer working as a Respiratory Therapist, I extend my appreciation to those who continue to do the noble work as health care workers as Nurses, Radiology Technicians, Laboratory Technicians, Respiratory Therapists, Physical Therapists, and all the other ancillary health care workers. Overall these good folks are underpaid, overworked and under appreciated.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Heart Attack, Ack, Ack, Ack

It has been two years since my heart attack. This event certainly came as a surprise to me. I never smoked cigarettes nor did I drink alcohol.
For most of my adult life I have led an athletic lifestyle. Hang gliding, playing racquetball, running, and most recently for 20 years I was active in mountain bike racing.

It was about 5 years ago that I finally had completely given up on bicycling. I had developed some neck and back injuries that prevented me from being able to ride the long hard rides. My weight slowly climbed from 165 pounds to nearly 190 pounds.

I was trying to deal with the weight gain and was doing a little bit of running, but it was not that big of a deal to me. Now I am not sure exactly how long the chest pain events went on. It crept in so stealthily that it was easy for me to pass it off. What is crazy, is that even though I had spent most of my life employed as a respiratory therapist, I was able to pass the mild twinges in the chest as "indigestion" or "muscle spasms". As a health care provider, I had seen many patients admitted into the ER, that had complained of similar symptoms, and like me passed it off as anything but what it was. An impending heart attack.

The pains never came when I was exercising, but only when I was mostly at rest. Here is how the week preceding the "big one" went.

The week had been good. No "heart burn" or "muscle spasm". My oldest son was going to come down this day (Thursday) and we were going to go sailing on Lake Sardis in Oklahoma on my Hobie Cat. It is early morning and I go out to hook up the boat trailer and I get hit with a pretty strong chest pain. Wow! What was that! I sit down for a while and the pain subsides... I am now starting to get to the point where I can no longer deny what these pains might be. But how can that be. I was an athlete most of my life. There just has to be some other explanation. I put it to the back of my mind.

Justin was on his way and I did not want to spoil the day, so it was off to the Lake. It was probably one of the best days of sailing we have had. Strong steady winds and were were ripping the lake up. Then the pains hit again. Justin was managing the tiller and mainsail and I was jib man. I gave Justin a heads up to let him know I was not feeling well and wanted to head back to shore. He figured it was one of my migraines coming on. I was feeling pretty sure about these pains being cardiac related now and wanted to get to shore.

I am encouraging Justin to sail with best speed settings and we are in a far-reach setting with me hiked out in the harness trying to keep both pontoons in the water. We are really ripping and the pain is not subsiding. And then disaster!

The left pontoon hit a wave and started going down into the water like a submarine diving. As it is diving, Justin is trying to release the sail and turn into the wind but it is too late. The right pontoon lifted high out of the water as the boat tumbled over and I was cast through the air on the trapeze wire. Coming up out of the water, I immediately started talking Justin through the tasks that he would need to do to get the Hobie upright. Release the mainsail, release the jib, get the mast pointed into the wind. Stand on the lower pontoon and use the righting rope to lean out and pull the boat upright. He is a big boy and I new he would have the weight to do it himself while I shouted instructions. Only thing I forgot to explain was that as the boat comes down, you need to position yourself to be in between the pontoons when it rights, and not try to jump out and away. So he takes a good whack on the head. Wow! He has a strong head.

During all of this the chest pain has gone away. I think the splashdown into the cold water did something. I was feeling fine. We set course again and made it back to shore without any other incidents or chest pain. I kept it to myself as to what I was fearing about the chest pains. Maybe I would set up and appointment to see my General Practitioner next week. I simply told Justin I was feeling better and we headed on home.

My wife has been a nurse all of her adult life. I had not even mentioned to her the pains that I had been experiencing over the past few weeks. It was the following Saturday morning that all my denials and secrets came tumbling down. We are both awake in bed watching some Saturday Morning TV. I get up to go to the bathroom and bamb.... I am hit with the "Big One". Nothing like Fred Sanford's "Big Ones", but enough pain that I sat down on the side of the bed. Sue noticed and asked if something was wrong. I told her I did not feel well. I guess her being a nurse gave her a level of intuition beyond normal, and she immediately stated, "Your having a heart attack!". I guess just by my body position, she was able to tell. Or maybe she can smell heart attacks.

So it was a mad dash to the hospital which was only 4 miles away. She stops at the red light and I told her to run the red light. I was now hunched over with the pain. It was not a real strong pain, but there was no denying it now.

At the Mena Regional Health Center, they took me in immediately and rapidly had me diagnosed with angina and indeed having a "Heart Attack". Some Aspirin and Nitro Glycerin and the pain subsided. They insisted that I immediately be transferred to Little Rock where there is a center that is just for Heart Emergencies. By that evening I was in surgery having an angiogram and two stints where placed in the left descending coronary artery.

My surgeon explained that I had 100 percent blockage of the Left Descending Coronary Artery. This is usually referred to as the "Widow Maker". Very few survive a blockage of the Left Descending Coronary Artery as it provides blood to a very large amount of heart muscle. What saved me from suffering large amounts of heart damage was what is called collateral circulation. Collateral circulation is a process where other blood vessels are formed and branch out over time to supply extra blood flow to and area of the body. In my case, all my years of endurance athletics had developed a lot of collateral circulation in the heart muscle. Thus when I shut down the left descending coronary, there were some other vessels that were still providing some blood to heart muscle that is normally only fed by the left descending coronary. A few days recovery in the hospital in Little Rock and I was back home at work.

So how did this happen? Well I am 100% convinced that my diet was too blame. Sure there are genetics that may lead to a predisposition for coronary artery disease, but there was not history of this in my family. For decades, I ate a horrible diet. You know.... a normal American diet. So I eliminated the red meats, the doughnuts, the candy bars, the bacon and egg breakfasts, the soda pops, the Big Mac's. We also had to start screening food for Sodium content. It has been a challenge, but I feel a lot healthier, and my weight has dropped back down to 165 pounds.

It has been two years since my heart attack. I have felt great, and am taking my magic medicines my doctor has subscribed. Blood work looks great, and I stick to my diet with only an occasional cheat. I am hang gliding, sailing and I have even returned back to bicycling by way of a couple of recumbent bikes. One is for riding the streets and one I built myself for riding off-road on our lovely trails in Arkansas.

And the downside.... Well, I did destroy some of my heart tissue. Not a lot but that is a pretty stupid thing to let happen. My cardiac physician also explains that at the time they performed the angiogram, they also saw the other coronary arteries to be 60% occluded. He says that even despite the drugs and the exercise and the diet change that more than likely I will be looking at the prospect of these arteries occluding and possibly more surgery. Well, I am not buying that story.... I am hoping that with my good diet and exercise and all the magic pills I take, I will be able to avoid any further plaque build up in my arteries. Will I prove my good doctor wrong? I am hoping so, and I am making every effort to achieve that goal.

Lesson learned

Just because you exercise, you will not prevent the disastrous effects that our American Diet has on the body. And there are many other diseases besides coronary artery disease that a poor diet can cause. Diabetes and cancer and more....

It is never to late to change ones course. I have set my sails on a new heading. I am hoping this new heading will keep me away from the storms.
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