Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dear Friends of Robert Miller
Thank you for all the support and caring words (and humor) you gave to Robert during his experience with cancer.
He so enjoyed hearing from you and you lifted his soul at a very dark time.
Robert passed away March 27th shortly after midnight.
Dawn (Linda)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

No Title is Better Than a Morbid One

I wrote what follows the other day and couldn't finish. Lack of energy, depression, pick one of a hundred reasons.  Thanks to okjimm and his last post, "If you you can't write, dance," I am inspired enough to throw this one on the table and maybe have a go on finishing it.   Geez, jimm but you're my lifeasver.

Seeing that I have no one to talk to during the day, save for endless phone calls to medical people, my conversation is limited to the two pictured above.

"How 'bout a kiss?" I ask Mandy who just trotted into the living room.  Her mother raised no fool, but I still fall for the routine where she'll put her paws on the recliner and lean forward toward my face to give me a great big slurp across my whiskery face.  Not knowing if she's been recently dining in the litter box, I'll pull back and avoid the slurp.  Must be the drugs I'm taking because, I'll stick my face back down close to hers as if I really want a kiss.

Like I said, Mandy's no fool and hip to the routine.  In dog-speak "Gimmeakiss" means ,"Hey, he's going to let me smell his breath."  Having been foiled at the dog trick of licking something in order to intensify the smell and include her saliva in the olfactory mix, she'll be smug satisfied in knowing that I just ate that fortune cookie lying atop the microwave.  I don't read the fortune to her because they're really lame comments on life. I wanna know how long this suffering is going to continue, whether Dawn will win the lottery and I can buy the hospital or in the very least, buy my own doctor with advanced degrees and plenty o' smarts. The last part is my fondest wish.

Remember the last post? The hour long visit with the nurse and a bout on my part of terminal complaining?

After two days, I ask Dawn to call the oncology doctor about some of the questions I raised in the aforesaid meeting.  The doctor ignores any immediate concerns like when will the torture by nausea end and responds by having an underling make an appointment for a PETSCAN on Monday of this week.  I thought it odd that I wasn't given the usual instruction about no food after midnite, etc. etc.  I did ask if they were going to do do the radioactive flouride injection.  "Oh no," the nurse says.

You see, if I have one more poison floating around my head I'll flip out.

We go through all the hoops, blow all the whistles and Dawn says she must have a friendly looking face when people in the hospital parking lot start gabbing at her about the weather and a lady in the waiting room from Decorah won't stop with the chin music about yada, yad, yada.  The PETSCAN machine is located in a trailer off to the side of the hospital.  To get in, the burly guy who escorts me hits an auto open switch on the hospital wall forcing two large doors to open.  Then he has to lift a garage type overhead door on the trailer.  This forces a blast of cold air into the trailer.  The lab tech is wearing a T-shirt and was trained in Nome, so it doesn't affect him.  I'm escorted to a two seat theater at the rear where, you guessed it, they inject the radioactive fluoride and tell me I'll have to wait about an hour for the "sugar water" to course through my veins.

That's it. End of story?  No sirree Bob.

The doctor calls the next day to say the PETSCAN reveals something unusual about my liver. Boy o boy. Just what I needed to hear.  "It could be a false/positive. We need to have a CT scan. Can you make it here by noon?"  (It's 10:30 am).

This is Tuesday.  By Friday of the same week and speaking to five different people, Dawn is able to get a reasonable appointment for the CT scan.  Labs at 9:30 am ff. by the CT scan.  Previously, because the CT dept. is short staffed, they wanted me to show up at 8:00 am.  That means getting up at 6 am, skip feeding the dog, drive for an hour on a two lane highway over ridgetops, coulees and three major 20% grades with slow traffic lanes.

I spend hours on the phone with my angel of a primary care doctor who weaves me in and out of the up hill battle of figuring out, what, why and how. 

The hospital and oncology department I am currently tied to was once called Franciscan/Skemp. It is now part of the Mayo clinic system.

When the tree trimmers return we discuss specific plans for my 40 foot Norway pines. I apologize to the the aborist guy who walked off in a huff the last time for  being as asshole.  Cancer will make one cranky, I explain.  "Yeah, so how's that going? "he asks.

"I think their reputation precedes them."  I say.

'"Funny, but I had a buddy who was treated there.  Seems that they're going down hill." 

Other than saying I wouldn't recommend anyone to the Mayo Clinic, I avoid specifics.  The breezy 30 degree weather is too cold for me to spend any amount of time outside with details.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No Regrets

Been pretty lonely of late.No visitors. No phone calls from the kids. Just me n' dog and katt.  Mandy doesn't leave my side.What a dog!

 Two weeks into chemo and I can't take no more nausea, gut ache, everything smelling like a cat litter box, shooting pains up and down my back.  So I decide to take control of this wildly floundering ship.  When I mention the aches especially around the area of a "port"  surgically implanted to facilitate with in-house cancer infusions, the nurse gets paranoid.  Yeah, I think I mentioned this.  After some wrangling, it's determined the port is not infected. I'm cleared of that worry, but the pain continues.

I'm scheduled for another treatment on a Friday.  Instead, I'm lucky to secure Jorge as a driver.  He, my wife and I go to oncology in Lacrosse.  I ask them to disconnect any left over tubes in the shoulder area.  Then for about an hour, Dawn and I sit with a nurse assigned to the overworked doctor and explain the problem. 

I'm good at anecdotal examples.

The reason I don't have a desire to drive a Harley anymore  ( a life goal along with flying an airplane)  is a friend's description of the sensation of sliding down a concrete highway after a gravel spill and watching the skin get peeled off of any exposed area. Chemo therapy has become like a gravel spill at 45 mph

I rather watch someone kill my blue heeler puppy in front of my face that undergo any more chemo.

I had a French teacher in college.  At the beginning of one lecture, she explained that she worked for the underground in WWII for the French.  It wasn't the danger, seeing the Nazis shoot your neighbor but the cold, she told the class.  The cold , permeating every part of your life, relentless, winter hard shell cold.  After chemo I cannot stand the feel of the wind on my face. The dog doesn't get walked, I wear three layers all the time and sit on a heated throw watching mindless TV. The nurse starts to well up.

They promise to do better.  Dawn speaks with the doctor for an idea of the scope of the treatment.  New medication is ordered and a PETSCAN is scheduled this coming Monday to see where we're at.  I've been off chemo for two weeks and this is the first time I've had the energy to write.  Mostly because when most of your life involves sleeping and trying to keep eating above a nausea  level so severe, a Sierra Mist and a saltine become a treat and are hardly writing home about.  If anything I want this to be a learning lesson for me and others.  I've haven't made promises to God yet or decided to become a priest if I survive, but believe me, there'll be changes.Big ones.

I've cried a few times lately. I've stuffed emotion for so long, especially as a ghetto fighter for 18 years, I actually don't know how to cry.  But when Dawn brings home a card from the folks she works with, and $75 of their hard earned dollars to take Dawn out for dinner when I'm cured, my shoulders heave and tears flow. I vow that they and us'n will all have a pizza party together.

When I go to the comment section on okjimmseggrolemporium ( see blog list) and read a few thoughts about me in the comments, I well up, knowing that there are a few angels out there. 

God knows, when I see my neighbor at the grocery store for the first time in the month since one disturbed resident in the group home they run wandered down here complaining of being held hostage, I get a grunt and a nod. Not a peep outa the rummy bunch of kids we call ours, but plenty of Facebook updates. No nice neighborly visits from my liberry friends.

So when the electric co-operative sends out a follow-up arborist after the tree trimmers noted a certain resistance on my part to their hacking or sawing on my mature Norway pines, he retreats quickly mumbling stuff about me putting words in his mouth . Note; try to get out more Gavrillo

Arborist:  The electric company is mandated by federal law to maintain a three to four foot distance between trees and wires.

Gavrillo( Jorge the former cop/politician agreeing) pure unadulterated bull shit.

Aborist: Most home owners aren't aware of the dangers to wires by trees.

Gavrillo: That's why I noticed a dangerous,dead white pine along the south fence line and your trimmers have ignored it for ten years .

I think he was offended when I offered to put his name on the list of defendants when I begin litigation.

A quick phone call to Hazel at the 'lectric company, a few names of people in high places dropped and yeah, I resorted to, "You know I don't need this. I've got throat cancer."  Hazel gasps.  A representative calls Dawn profuse with apologies and a big red "crazy" flag is placed next to my name.

What I learned about doing absolutely nothing  most of the time. 

Get a smaller dog.  The 50 lb lug that licks my face in the morning is difficult to hug with deep felt emotion. Appreciate a woman in a soft beige cashmere sweater. Hug her softly and often.  Hug all women softly and often (with permission).  Whew, I used up all my energy and have no reserve for the good stuff.  Better get out the note book.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Low News

It's a slow news day here in Kickapoo Center. The electric company tree trimmers came through. I  brave the cold winds and exposure to remind them that our place is special.

Last time they came through I made sure it that all property lines were noted as no-spray zones.  What that means is that they are not allowed to napalm the area under their power lines that affect our organic property.  The watch word here is "selected cutting". The special designation I use refers to the idea that all trees planted around our five acres are part of a mature landscape plan when our house was the school.  It and a post office, church, rumored general store and Carol Hansen's grandparents house across the road were part of a community which extended into the floodplain where Kickapoo Center still exists as a plotted town.

They avoid the service line that runs through a Norway pine to a pole in the front yard.A few perfunctory cuts on weed trees on the other side of the fence and they retreat to a single phase line running through the corn field at the end of the town road.

 I think the principal of the high school who purchased the field at auction a year ago has pipe dreams of something more than raising soybeans. The 2008 flood is more than a memory when the Viola Fire Department comes to check on a us.  A volunteer for the fire department and I chat about a harrowing rescue via boat in a river whose current strong enough to deposit a six foot high sand bar at the edge of the former bridge across the river.

Mandy is fascinated by the TV which out of desperation dominates the living room. I'm thankful that Dawn took her along for some errands and a visit to her mother's (Mandy's) place.  I long for the day of watching a movie from beginning to end without someone hawking term life insurance, Flo the Progressive zombie, " act now and you'll receive not just two wonder-bras but four. Just pay an additional shipping handling charge of 59.95 or my favorite, the slimy long hair who steps across the international date line with Eskimo glasses to remind lucky viewers that they'll get a $200 credit today.

We made a mistake thinking that having TV would mean we'd watch fewer movies.  Cutting back, it takes a week to complete the cycle.  Redbox or the local grocery store are a better alternative.

Sorry. Winding down. Gotta rest. Peace and love to y'all.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Take an 8/12X11 sheet of clean white paper. Draw a line through the middle, demarcating an upper and lower half.  On the top half write pretty much what you feel like when you'e normal. Reserve the lower half for below normal.  Low normal would be close the the middle line. High normal would be somewhere in the upper half.  If I were to do this frivolous exercise I wouldn't even hit the paper on the lower half.  I'd be dribbling a line somewhere on my desk top near the the handerchief I frequently use to blot my runny nose.

No idea how long I can keep up the energy to write this.  If I had to, I couldn't even write a decent good-bye note. I'd be a sad and sorry stateent for someone who spend his life with a pen in hand living the unfolding scene in front of him with pen and ball point ink.

Coffee was and is my muse.  I savored a good cup of coffee and the high that went with it.  Yesterday I had a cup of fine ground dark roast brewed as espresso.  I was hoping it'd unlock some inner world of low residue, lack of fiber, food that has to minimally pas through a stent implanted in my throat.  The inner world stood blocked.  Door tight. Jammed shut  No means of unsticking the door without a regimen of  MirLax in 6 ounces of water every 15 minutes waiting for the the flood.

The last time I wrote I'd been treated with chemical and left the hospital feeling renewed.  It lasted two days.  By the end of the week, I'd shut off the power to the portable battery pack pump that administers about a half teaspoon of poison into my system 24/7.  I called the duty nurse to report an assortment of shooting pains, aches, lackawanna.  They reacted with the usual.  "How soon can you come up here?"  I replied, " I can't."  No ride, wife's at work, no energy to drive.  They react with predictability and ass-covering.Pandering to the stuff they can answer, offering useless empty platitudes.   I'm so cold I wear long thermal underwear, covered with sweats, wood socks and a hooded black fleece over shirt.  A wool scarf keeps my neck warm.Having previously contracted pneumonia, I was well aware of the dangers of extreme chills and fever.  I had no fever.  They didn't ask and I was so gone into suffering from shooting, sharp pains in my abdomen, seeking relief, I never caught their gaffe. 

The wonderful people at the local hospital come to my aid.  Mother's, daughters and good people like you and me with compassion and feeling disconnect the f!@# pump and flush to port surgically implanted into my upper left shoulder. We talk nonsense and good sense.  Like the fact that you can leave your keys in the car, engine idling while you run into the quick-stop for a banana. Your car will still be there as well as slow Eddie who hangs around the gas station and waves to everyone. I get a chest ex-ray. All is checked so that Mayo Clinic in Lacrosse can rest easy that they haven't screwed up.  Unfortunately, I miss lunch.  By the end of the day I've lost my appetitite, and usually eat something fast, quick and minimally nutritious.

The Mayo clinic is overworked and understaffed.  They lost a doctor to cancer. I never get answers to the chipped beef pond scum feeling of being left on the counter to develop a yellow crust and thrown summarily away.  I resort to narcotics and nausea meds.  Legal ones.  Following the prescription dosage to the letter, I take one tab every four hours waiting for the pain to move on to my neighbor-the Ron Paul supporter.  By 11 pm I bail any idea of sleep and take to my trusty recliner downstairs.  We have so many LED lights scattered on various electronics that I walk into my office in an adjacent room and turn on a closet light . That way I can maneuver in the dark around the LED lights that mark the contours of hard edged furniture. Mandy takes up her post on the chair opposite me.  She buries her nose in the soft, knit cover and sighs.  When will it be over.  I am so worried about him.Her eyes open frequently to slits, checking that I haven't died or disappeared.  She's starting to back off from her food. Not a good sign.  I take time to sit on the stairs to hold her, console her that Dad's all right, we'll chase squirrels in the back yard soon. You'll be able to nip at my heels telling me how much you love this guy who took you with him everywhere. Loved you like a person.

The last straw.  Another heavier duty pain pill. I know I will be sorry.  By 3:45 pm, over four hours later, I shuffle off to bed, climb into flannel sheets where I can lay on my side without pain and doze off.

My primary care physician, working until 8pm in the evening calls to reassure me that the reults of the CBC and x-rays are all positive signs.  She forwards the information to Lacrosse.  A day later and there's no contact from Lacrosse/Mayo.  I'm due back on Friday.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Simple Twist of Fate

 Zounds.  It's late afternoon.I went to the Post Office and the library around the corner.BFD, huh. Yes, huh, it is.

Yesterday, I drove to Mayo-Lacrosse to begin the second round of Chemotherapy.  Without scrolling back to see if I previously mentioned being called into the principals office at Franciscan/Skemp/Mayo for loud, consistent whining, I'm going to briefly recount my experience then and yesterday.

 I think I set them off at FSM last week when I told them the therapy was worse than if I would shoot myself in the head.  Sort of  like yelling sexual harassment at Wal-Mart if you're an employee ( one of my co-workers told me an overnight stocker was coming on to her in a creepy way). I got called in then. I also got called in for calling the department head a doofus when she consistently ordered 44 quarts of one kind of milk for average sales of 8/day.  Not important here.

FSM says I have to come immediately to speak to the Dr.  I do. We talk. I'm given 5 days to psych myself for endless nausea, depression, chills, lackawanna in general.

Dawn accompanies me. It's Valentine's . We share a romantic lunch amid the blue unifroms in the cafeteria after the blood test and before 4 hours of multiple drip bag hydration..  Dawn goes shopping while I'm treated by Kim a new person whose care is competent and attentive.  I'm able to drink Sierra Mist from tiny cans, eat animal crackers, cheese and crackers and scan the cable channels for stock info.(not that I have any).

Dawn drives me home. I don't fall asleep.  I'm thinking about dinner. Mmm. Shrimp and pasta in a white sauce would be nice with a dash of Parmesan.  Some frozen green peas.  My appetite seems to have returned. I've gained six pounds after losing 28.  If I had dropped to 190 pounds, I'd be at the weight I quit teaching 24 years ago.  Back then, for exercise, I run the stairs 9 times a day.  Knock on wood, twice.

I take a bunch of anti-nausea meds and sink into my recliner . When bedtime rolls around, I'm warm-2 layers plus a sweater- so I decide to stay downstairs.  Dog and cat in a genuine show of affection stay the whole night at my side.  I love you guys.Happy Birthday Pooch.

Evidently they got the formulas right.  "The practice of medicine," as Mitch one of the RN's says.  I have energy and appetite back. Whooee. Now, my inspiration is back in full form. Get those beads out of storage.

Antique trade beads, bone discs, pewter corn, white hear glass beads
Dawn makes wonderful jewelry in addition to her skill as an artist.  In the twelve years we operated an American Indian art, crafts, jewelry business, we also sold beads and crafts supplies. We went from retailer to wholesaler to jobber.  Our suppliers were from New York, The Czech Republic, India and from large markets in the west.

This is a photo from my web page, Seven Roads Gallery. It's representative sample of what we carry.  All glass, natural materials, no plastic-no junk.Tomorrow's post will highlight details.  I'll be offering discounts and prices comparable to when we closed the store in 1998.  I'll do a little back ground too of the corporation, it's inception as a catalog, then gallery in Milwaukee's Third Ward, the Trading post across the street, the one in Flagstaff and now the one without a bricks and mortar building in Kickapoo Center.

I am so stoked to be a peddler again.
turquoise and heishi
rare red branch coral
Antique African Trade Beads ceramic tube, Lewis & Clark beads (repro) silver pendant

Sunday, February 12, 2012

For Goodness Sake

I've avoided certain topics in this still life biopic of my life in the country.

One, if it wasn't at least a bit entertaining, in the trash bin.  Two, if it didn't keep to my  theme of Seven Roads To Home*-trash bin.
*Seven Roads To Home has a double meaning.  On the basic level,  it is the journey that led me to Kickapoo Center after years of wandering.  I can count seven roads that brought us here.  Subtext-the Ojibwa believe that one's life is like a tree with many side branches.  If after six or seven side trips, one should realize the the truth path/center road, to what the Anishnabe believe to be enlightenment " enhancing balance in this lifetime". The previous is poorly summarized.  Blame it on a cancer addled constitution. I'm struggling to keep my balance.
Politics in all it's craziness (except for the grassroots level), nope. Avoid politics and cliches, like the plague. I never wanted to join the circus, but it sure is a hoot to watch all the clowns.

Three, if what I'd written turned out to be just another mundane description of one old man's mindless musings about a smart dog and a mixed up cat,  a wife who's sole passion now is knitting socks, yet  scored number 4 (in the nation) in the kick boxing finals in MNLPS in 1988 , I would take up wood carving instead. Maybe I will finish that santo I started six years ago.

I've experienced enough craziness for three lifetimes. It gets old. Craziness sometimes involved a bottle of Wild Turkey, a tall, willowy blond woman, a tiny two room apartment off Brady Street, gossiping school aides, a double helping of street violence on a daily level and enough warnings from a munificent God that even I could see the writing on the wall...The day after you can't remember where you left your truck. Perhaps NOW would be a good time to give up drinking expensive bourbon whiskey.

Yesterday I am am dismayed to read about One Million Moms anti-gay campaign.  It targeted Ellen DeGeneres and JC Penny hiring her to be their spokesperson.  I watch a video clip of an affable young man, the CEO of JCP,  speak about their decision to employ DeGeneres. It never occurred to him that she being gay would be an issue.  One Million Moms is an adjunct of an organization called American Family Association

Try the link if you need to find out more. Even more, do something to speak out loudly against bigotry in all forms.

To save us all from a mind numbing diatribe from me, I'd suggest that the AFA learn how to turn off a remote or how to depress the off button on the TV.  I do it all the time.  The most damning thing one could say about TV content in this era, is that the major networks have been supplanted by such YouTube upstarts like Ray William Johnson whose crass, profane, informative, funny video shows outshine any mind numbing episode of Two And A Half Men.  The video clip of sheep circling a car and Ray's allusion to Ron Paul's supporters (does he really wear a supporter?) makes me guffaw.

Dig further and you, too, will be concerned about a group formerly headed by an evangelical minister from Tupelo, Mississippi ( birthplace of Elvis ) labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a"Hate Group" and compared by Bill O'Reilly to Wisconsin's infamous Joe McCarthy.

"With every mistake, we surely must be learning."  George Harrison. 

One Million Moms and The American Family Association and their so called conservative Christian family values are just another perversion of Christian values being foisted on us. A true Christian does not partake in violence of any form toward living things.There's no difference between them and the Orthodox Russian carpet layers who in addition to installing the carpet on our second floor hand me cassette tapes spewing fear, making snarky side comments about accepting Jesus as my true savior or the young kid getting out of the late model car in a three piece, Brooks Brothers suit asking me if I read the bible.  Yes, I read the Bible. I also read the gnostic gospels, James Herriot and St.Augustine. Jesus along with Jack Kerouac, Denzel Washington, Babe Ruth, Gertie Sennett, Frank McCourt, Clint Eastwood, my real mother, Joe Graczyk, Ok Jimm is a short list of people I'll drink coffee with in this life or the next.  

Learn to turn off the F---ing boob tube you idiots, tell your kids the truth about pornography as if they don't already know what's real, and what's not, turn up your lamp so it gives off less smoke and more light, assume people are smarter than you give them credit, advocate love and the notion as repeated weekly by Jeff Smith on the Red Green show,

"We're all in this together. Remember I'm pulling for ya." Thanks Red. I'm pulling for ya too. Hope your tour in Madison and Lacrosse is a success.

My Amish friends know it.  They don't proselytize, yet their numbers in community keep increasing as well as their influence and immersion in our culture.  They keep extremely conservative values within their community and have successfully defended their lives from being negatively changed by technology.

In the interest of balance, I'd suggest picking up a bottle of Lifeway Kefir. My friend at Wal-Mart-Bulldog- must have had something to do with stocking it in the yogurt section.  There's a side panel description of Christy Turlington Burn's documentary , No Woman , No CryLifeway donates a portion of every sale of Probiotic Blueberry Kefir, supporting maternal and child health. Every Mother Counts

Every human life counts.