Monday, December 29, 2008

Now don't be TOO jealous . . .

. . . but today, December 29, Carol walked over to our across-the-back-fence neighbors to ask them about—oh, it doesn't matter what. She just went to ask a question.

When she came back some 30 minutes or so later (and Carol doesn't tend to be chatty, so that tells you something about the neighbor) she was carrying a small paper sack. She put the sack on the kitchen counter.

Just now I walked into the kitchen and glanced inside the sack. There I saw four ripe (or nearly ripe) home-grown tomatoes.

No, our neighbors don't have a greenhouse or an indoor garden. The have a regular, run-of-the-mill back yard vegetable garden, and it's still producing.

Yes, we did have one light frost a few weeks ago, but the neighbors covered the plants with plastic and they (the plants) survived just fine. To those of you shoveling snow and fighting ice-slick roads on your daily commute, I apologize.

I know: it DOES get really hot here in the summer. No question about that. But there are some years when we don't have any winter at all.

All in all, I'd say things pretty much balance out.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Defined as: English class—at least during my last year of high school.

But before I go into details, let me first wish everyone a fantastic what's-left-of-the-holidays. Christmas Day here in South Texas was peaceful and warm. In fact, late in the afternoon Carol and I took a walk around the neighborhood wearing shorts and tee shirts. (Us, not the neighborhood.)

The closest thing we saw to "white" this Christmas was the puffy clouds in the otherwise hazy-clear sky.

But I digress . . .

The (awful-sounding) procedure described in the post immediately below this one was apparently successful. I am essentially pain free. I say "essentially" because there is still a tiny twinge every now and then on the right side, but compared to the way it had been for the preceding two weeks . . . well, there's no comparison.

From what I read on the Internet (so it HAS to be true!), relief gained from this epidural injection is rarely permanent, and sometimes only lasts a week or two. In longer cases relief is gained for from 6 months to a year. In some instances, a regimen of two or even three such injections is required.

Yeah, I'm hoping to be on the long end of that relief time scale.

For those of you who have suggested chiropractic treatment and/or just time (which heals all wounds . . . or brings them to a fatal conclusion), I'm generally inclined to use those treatments also. This time I let myself be talked into going to a neurologist, who looked at the MRI images and said, "Do NOT get your back 'adjusted!' It will NOT help, and it might do further damage." He was quite emphatic.

Well, I know that some doctors take a very dim view of chiropractic treatment. "Quackery" is a descriptive term often used. However, I know a lot of people (my wife among them) who have had considerable success with chiropractors. I've been to one myself in the past for what I call "traditional" lower back pain.

My problem this time is fear. This sciatic nerve problem is NOT my traditional back pain. It includes long-lingering numbness in my foot and ankle, causing doctors to wonder if I have permanent nerve damage from this alleged bulging disc. They measure strength and calf-muscle size to see if I'm atrophying. They are talking about the possibility of giving up (permanently) activities that I have enjoyed for decades.

So yeah, I got scared.

However I plan to take this one step at a time. If this one-to-three injection treatment is unsuccessful and my friendly neurologist tells me that my next and only other option is surgery, you can bet I'll first try some alternatives.

In the meantime, I'll revel in my pain free state for as long as it lasts!

I might even go back to English class, but it's not likely.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I got shot in the back yesterday!

(WARNING: This post will of absolutely no interest to anyone, except possibly my family.)

Ever had a bout of sciatica? I hope not. It ain’t no fun, I promise.

Facts: The sciatic nerves exit the spinal column way down in the lower back between vertebrae L5 and S1 (L is for lumbar, or lower back, and S is for Sacrum, which adjoins the pelvic bone.) The nerve at its root (an aside here: who knew that nerves had roots? Maybe its pre-Latin name was Kunta Kinte? I wonder if Alex Hailey had sciatica) is about as big around as one of your fingers. Which finger? I don’t know—how big are your fingers? Anyway, it’s a pretty big nerve.

This nerve extends all the way down each leg to your toes. When it becomes inflamed or irritated, the pain starts in your butt (yeah, I know, it’s a real pain in the a$$), extends down the back of your thigh and calf, all the way to the sole of your foot.

This is NOT your typical everyday lower back pain. I’ve been subject to those pains off and on for many years, usually on the left side. They last about two weeks and then subside. This sciatica is a burning aching throbbing mess, located more in the leg than in the back. In my case it has included persistent numbness in the sole and toes of my right foot.

Yes, I went to a family doctor. He sent me to a neurologist, who ordered an MRI and did some other tests better described in a Nazi torture spy novel than on this blog. Suffice it to say that the tests involved electrodes, needles, and a device I refer to (kindly) as a cattle prod. They SAY they are measuring the time an electric “impulse” can travel through your nerves to determine if there’s nerve damage. I say, “HA!!” They’re really seeing how far they can raise the voltage before your leg jerks high enough to kick the technician in the face, and your grunts turn to screams. Each time the doc hits you with another jolt he says, “Sorry.” But I can hear the sadistic sneering smile in his voice. (Great sibilance there, eh?)

Not satisfied with that infliction of pain, the Neurologist’s suggested treatment (following an MRI, which I guess was supposed to add some semblance of objective logic to his devious plan) was an ESI.

Sounds innocent, right? That acronym stands for Epidural Steroid Injection. What it means, in layman’s terms, is that a different sadist (excuse me, I mean “doctor”) gets to stick a big, long needle in your back. Using a fluoroscope to position the tip of the needle precisely, he tries to inject cortisone (the steroid) in just the right spot. Too “shallow” and the steroid does little good. Too “deep” and there could be damage or other problems.

Well, I underwent that procedure yesterday.

If you are currently cringing in sympathy, you don’t need to. Like a trip to the dentist, the anticipation is worse than the reality.

The good news is that I had an excellent doctor doing the injection. He first deadened the area with Novocain or something similar, just like the dentist does before drilling. He said that little injection would feel like a bee sting, but it was very mild. After that there was no pain at all.

Yes, when he told me he was guiding the needle to JUST the right spot (the most critical part of all this) I wanted to stop breathing so as not to move my abdomen. But all THAT does is make you want to take deeper breaths later! Fortunately, the entire procedure from the numbing injections until the big needle was out only took about 10 minutes. He slapped a little Band-Aid on my back and said we were finished! Music to my ears!

Then (and ONLY then) he showed me the needle! I thanked him for waiting. I think I would have fainted dead away at the thought of that telephone pole being shoved into my spine!

Now, as I type this some 20 hours after being “shot,” I think it all may have been worth it. It will take 2-3 days to determine if I get full relief based on just one shot (and if not I might have to face one or even two more!), but I can already tell that there has been some improvement.

Before the doctor shook my hand and left, I asked him if I would be able to play golf after this. He assured me I would. I then thanked him profusely, and admitted that I never really had been able to play before.

Somehow I think he’d heard that one already.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Laxative? Oh, yes!

Regular readers will remember that seven years ago Carol and I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa. We traveled with Carol’s cousin Linda and her husband Les.

In fact, for a full, detailed journal of the trip complete with our hundreds of pictures of wildlife (some of them actually pretty good) and scenery, scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar for a link to my home page and you’ll find another link there to our Africa trip pics.

During that journey we spent a few days in the Serengeti. The topography was mostly flat (plains) with some gently rolling areas. But here and there dotting the landscape were rock outcroppings called “kopjes” (“kopje” in the singular – pronounced “copy”). Rather than take a thousand words to describe them, here’s a picture of a typical kopje.

On our first full-day game drive in the Serengeti we had packed a picnic lunch. At about noon our guide pulled up to a kopje near a shade tree and scouted around a bit to ensure no dangerous animals were lurking nearby before we got out of the vehicle for our meal. The men headed to the left around a rock while the women rounded a rock in the other direction for some privacy so we could relieve ourselves.

That experience was brought vividly to mind yesterday when I received the picture below in an email entitled “African laxative.”

Here is the email:

"Oh yes it is!

African Laxative; about to start working . . . "

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Do you remember Dave Barry?

Dave was a humor columnist for the Miami Herald, but was syndicated and in papers across the country. A couple of his trademark phrases were: “An alert reader sent me this report . . .” and “I am not making this up!”

Typically he would write about things like exploding toilets, fish that rained from the sky, and similar “extreme” topics; extending them to ridiculous levels and making me laugh out loud with great regularity.

When I saw the article excerpted below in my local paper this morning, I knew it was JUST the kind of thing Dave would have been able to use as fodder for one of his columns. You can Google “AP” or the writer’s name and find the entire article if you like (or click THIS LINK:)

Dec 5, 6:27 PM EST

Farmers target EPA report they say might tax cows

By BOB JOHNSON Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- For farmers, this stinks: Belching and gaseous cows and hogs could start costing them money if the federal government decides to charge fees for air-polluting animals.

Farmers so far are turning their noses up at the notion, which they contend is a possible consequence of an Environmental Protection Agency report after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases from motor vehicles amounts to air pollution.

"This is one of the most ridiculous things the federal government has tried to do," said Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, an outspoken opponent of the fees.

Now, Dave Barry would have focused on the flatulence issue. That was just his style! He probably would have written something like this:

An alert reader in Victoria, TX sent me an AP article in which is reported that an EPA study may result in a tax on flatulent farm animals. (I am NOT making this up.)

The claim is that the “emissions” of these animals should be considered a pollutant (no question there—in my mind, at least), and may contribute to Global Warming.

The article wasn’t clear if the contribution to warming came from the content of these emissions or the temperature of them. I suppose more study is needed on that issue, but I don’t think I’ll volunteer to help in the effort.

I question whether the emissions would be considered “greenhouse gasses” or not. I’ve been inside greenhouses before, and they never smelled particularly like cow flatulence. Well, except the ones that used cow manure for fertilizer.

Pigs and chickens were also mentioned as contributors to the flatulence problem and possibly subject to the proposed tax.

Now we all know that the EPA must have conducted scientific research to determine these findings, but one wonders just how they went about measuring the content and the quantity of flatulence produced by these animals. I picture white-coated scientists hovering around the back ends of cows, holding measuring devices designed to capture and analyze . . . well . . . gas. (The scientists holding the devices, not the cows.)

But doesn’t that sort of thing depend on diet? I know it does with me! You know; beans and cabbage? Isn't it the same with cows and pigs? I wonder if their studies concluded whether grass in cows produced the same quantity and quality of emissions as, maybe, slops in hogs?

And why do you suppose they limited their study to farm animals? Do they think that dogs and cats don’t produce digestive tract emissions?

I used to have a bulldog that could out-produce any other animal I know of when it came to flatulence. And he always chose to produce it, in copious quantities, when he was in the middle of the family as we all watched a movie on TV. That dog could clear a room in seconds flat! If the EPA ever found out about him, I’d likely have to pay a huge tax for pollution.

Farmers were quoted as saying that the whole effort to tax these animals smelled. You could almost say they felt the EPA was being chickensh__ about the whole business. The EPA’s response was that they never really proposed a specific tax, so the whole affair is bullsh__.

Further reports are almost certainly forthcoming. I’ll be waiting with bated breath (and a clothespin on my nose) to bring you any additional word on the subject.

(Actually Dave would have done a much better job with a topic like this, but I lack his flair for the absurd.)