Blood Work

STEF: no way!? who are you? is your fashion sense gone because i am no longer there?

I saw Angie today. She’s the phlebotomist at a local medical lab. I needed blood drawn to make sure the Lipitor that’s supposed to save me doesn’t kill me. I’d like to strike that delicate balance with my bodily fluids, if possible.

I used to have my blood drawn in at a lab in a large medical center building. It’s tall and shiny and there’s always at least one ambulance parked out front. It looks official. Years ago it was a regional headquarters building for IBM. Now you can get you colon scoped there–and I have.

This new lab is in a basement. You can’t make this stuff up. Helaine’s been there. She asked if it reminded me of the subway? Yes.

Angie did a great job. I had much more imagined panic than real pain. I looked at my puncture wound after she’d removed the spike from my vein. “I’d make an awful IV drug user,” I said. That’s my attempt at medical lab small talk.

Meanwhile, Angie was taking two large pieces of adhesive tape and and pressing them on some gauze on my arm to stop a tiny trickle of blood. To heck with the needle. I was scared about that tape on my hairy arm! Before the glue had a chance to set she pulled it off and replaced it with a bandage the size of a nickle. I’m much happier now.

I walked up the stairs and onto the street. It’s my custom to call Helaine and tell her I wasn’t too much of a wuss. As I pulled my phone from my pocket I caught sight of my shoes.

OMG! Two totally different shoes.

They were both black but they were obviously from two different pairs. Is this what stress does to me? At work tonight Ann Nyberg admitted this was something she’d done too. That was surprising.

My family was understanding and supportive, especially Stef who I told on IM.

STEF: no way!? who are you? is your fashion sense gone because i am no longer there?

We’re saving up to buy her upper case letters.

They’d better not lose my blood. I can’t do this again.

Making The Switch At Work

I decided it was time to get a faster computer at work. No problem. I enjoy re-working older machines, so I just went to our IT guy and asked for the next machine they were cycling out.

Wow – what a find. It’s a beefy IBM with a dual core 2.8 GHz Pentium 4. It lived a previous life as a server. There was no hard drive and only 256 mb RAM. That was fine. I had some hardware at home which was never going to be used. It’s in this IBM box now.

I downloaded, burned and installed Ubuntu Version 7.04. It went in seamlessly. This is very impressive. Linux is never easy. In this case at least, Ubuntu was every bit as simple to install as Windows.

In order to have some time to do it right, I brought the computer home and did my installation there. I guess this is the true definition of bringing your work home with you!

Today I brought it in with the intention of swapping it for the old one – true plug and play. I should be so lucky.

Between the version of Ubuntu I had been using and this one small things had changed. Files which were in one directory were now in another. Stuff like that.

The video wasn’t right for my monitor. That’s always perplexing, but a quick check (on another machine) online found the solution (control-alt-backspace).

It might take a day or two to get this puppy up and running, but no more than that. In the meantime, a computer which was probably destined for the the trash or storage is making my life a little easier. How sweet is that?

A little nerd love, please.

The Wuss Survives His Colonoscopy

I’m home, typing in bed. My colonoscopy is over. Dr. Chang found one very small polyp, which he assumes is benign.

I am also pretty stoned right now. If this entry isn’t totally lucid, I reserve the right to come back and revise my remarks (as they say on the floor of the senate).

A number of people said the worst part would be the prep, and they were right. I ate no solid food yesterday, though I did finish a half gallon tub of ice cream.

At home, around midnight, I began to cleanse. I poured out a glass of soda from a two liter bottle of Sprite and replaced it with the contents of two small bottles of Fleet Phospho Soda.

It’s been a while since I’d had real sugared soda, so I’m not sure how the Phospho Soda changed the taste. I think I tasted the salt in it, which got stronger as I got closer to the bottom of the bottle. The Phospho Soda must be more dense than Sprite.

I knew I needed to get started fast or I’d never finish.

The first half of the soda bottle was downed in about 10 minutes. I took another hour to do the rest. That’s also about the time the effects began.

I’m not going to go into detail, but I can guarantee there’s nothing solid left in my digestive system – nothing! And, I probably lost five or more pounds.

Wow – diet secret!

By this morning I was getting apprehensive. It wasn’t one thing that worried me, it was everything. Though, if I had to choose a prime suspect for my angst, it was the IV.

Somehow, I expected it would go in my forearm and it would burn. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Actually, it went into the middle of my hand, between my wrist and fingers and didn’t hurt at all.

The doctor’s waiting room looked like… well it seemed like a doctor’s waiting room. It was only after a nurse came to fetch me, and I walked through a door to the inner sanctum, that I was transported into a hospital. That part amazed me.

The building I was in was designed to be an IBM sales office. It’s three stories tall with lots of parking. Obviously, it’s been heavily modified.

In a small prep room, the nurse began going through a questionnaire. It was the typical medical queries about medication and past procedures. By this time I was wearing an automated blood pressure cuff on my left arm and an oxygen sensor on my right middle finger. EKG probes were stuck to my chest and side.

A heart monitor blasted a rhythmic line of beeps. That, more than anything, took away any pretense of this being a ‘nothing’ process. Say what you will, this is a real surgical procedure.

John, the anesthesiology nurse came in. More questions. More forms. He was reassuring, but also had to tell me everything that might go wrong.

No one wants to hear a sentence which contains the words, “in rare cases.”

By this time I was a real nut case. I could feel myself quivering with fear. I said, “If my blood pressure isn’t high now, when will it ever be!”

I told John I didn’t want to be totally under. I wanted to be sedated, but awake. However, I would leave my actual state of consciousness to his judgment. If it seemed I was in discomfort, he could do what he felt was right.

He saw my nervousness (a blind person could have seen my nervousness) and recommended something to take the edge off before the ‘main event.’ Within a minute my anxiety was diminishing.

I was OK to walk to the operating room, though I wanted someone to hold onto.

They helped me onto the table, I got on my side and that’s all I remember.

Later John would tell me I wasn’t comfortable as Dr. Chang began his work, so out I went. I don’t remember getting to that point, but that’s exactly what I wanted him to do under those circumstances.

So, what can impart to you? After all, a colonoscopy is a life safer and recommended once you get to a certain age.

It is scary to consider a colonoscopy in the abstract. Someone is going to run a tube… many feet of that tube… into your body while taking pictures and possibly snipping polyps.

On the other hand, my apprehension was not in proportion to what actually happened. I felt no pain. I feel no pain now. There is nothing that would lead me to believe I’ve had it done.

The prep part, as everyone says, is worse than the procedure. And even it is more of a bother than anything else.

The people I dealt with today were super. They were confident and reassuring and promised not to tell anyone what I looked like with my clothes off. I hope Dr. Chang knows how important they were to me even before they were doing their real work.

It’s impossible you’re a bigger baby or more of a wuss than I am. That being said, I’m glad I had it done. I’m also glad I don’t have to do this again for another five years.

Blogger’s note: Do I have photos of my colon? Of course. I’m in no shape to scan them now, but they’ll be added to this post later.

They Call It A Procedure

I did a very grown-up thing this afternoon. I went to see a gastroenterologist in anticipation of getting a colonoscopy.

I didn’t want to be a grown-up about this (or much of anything). I suppose I have no choice. My wife, my doctor, my mother, even my sister have said the time is right. It’s been put off for years.

People have these all the time, and I have no reason to believe there will be a problem for me, but it’s still freaky. It’s freaky before the procedure&#185 and doesn’t end there.

I met Dr. Chang at his office, not far from where I live. I liked him right away. First of all, my friend/physician (aka Steve) had already vouched for him. Second, he seemed confident and smart. I like smart when it comes to medicine.

The obvious question is, why would anyone choose this less than glamorous specialty? He said, and I believe him, he was fascinated by the body’s digestive process… and then he went to explain what he meant. He sold me.

Then we went into what’s expected of me. I’ll have to limit my diet as I approach the procedure. Early that week, no more aspirin or ibuprofen. During the last day, clear liquids (though thankfully, I can continue to drink coffee).

The night before, I’ll down what I now call ‘the potion.’ You mix ‘the potion’ into a 2-liter bottle of soda and then down it all. He said it’s best served really cold and with a straw, so you can aim it beyond your taste buds.

Without going into details, I’m guessing it will start coming out as it’s going in! Maybe that’s an exaggeration. One of my co-workers offered up it sounded like a radiator flush for a car.

The doctor walked me through their facility, on the top floor of what used to be an IBM sales office building. It’s a hospital now. They might not call it that, but it’s a hospital nonetheless.

During the procedure, Dr. Chang will be looking at a TV monitor – seeing my innards through a camera. He showed me the tiny camera lens and light.

As he continued talking about the camera, all I could see was the length of the cable connected to it. Along the cable were marks and numbers. It was calibrated, much like that thing you strike with a sledge hammer at a carnival (except this didn’t have a final mark reading “Superman”).

I will go, because it’s the right thing to do. In the end (play on words unintended) I’m the beneficiary. Many of my fears are irrational. Certainly my fear of this. But, irrational or not, right now it’s real.

&#185 – In using the word procedure, I’m reminded of Bill Crystal in City Slickers. It’s the beginning of the movie and he’s in the midst of seeing his life crumble. Standing before a room of grade school kids, he says:

Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?” Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery.

The Geek In Me Speaks

Here’s a major surprise – I love computers. I find them fascinating and am always tempted to learn what I can and expand the envelope, if possible.

It’s possible this goes back to my first experience with computers, in high school in 1967. Somehow, we had two computers at school. Actually, we had one – an IBM 360 (I think) which was booted by flipping switches in the proper order and ‘fed’ with punch cards or paper tape.

What seemed like our second computer was a Model 34 Teletype, somehow connected by phone line to a computer at a local college. I played Wumpus, Golf and Horse Racing. Everything came out as printed text on that very slow teletypewriter.

In 1978 I got a Radio Shack TRS-80. Later, I got a Commodore 64 and then a series of PCs, culminating in the homebuilt Athlon XP 1600+ machine I’m composing this on.

I like being on the ‘bleeding’ edge, so I’ve kept an old computer handy and loaded Linux as the operating system. Depending on whom you believe, Linux will soon roust Windows as the operating system of choice, sending Bill Gates and the Evil Empire to the poorhouse… or it is an ill conceived idea promulgated by geeks who can’t really see who the final user will be (I saw Walter Mossberg say this yesterday on CNBC) and don’t care to design in ease of use.

I want the first choice to be true but I’m scared it’s the second. That’s not a totally fatal situation, but it certainly means Linux isn’t quite ready for prime time.

My latest install attempts (and they’re ongoing as I type this) will bear this out.

With a new, five year old, laptop (Dell D300XT), an extra hard drive for it and a great deal of curiosity, I set out to make the laptop run Linux. Since this is an extra hard drive, I should be able to swap drives and go back and forth from Windows to Linux without one affecting the other.

Since Red Hat has decided to get out of the consumer desktop end of Linux, I decided to try a new distribution. As I understand it, all Linux versions share certain core components but differ in the other programs that come in the distribution. Suse seemed like a good idea. I had read about it. It has its fans… why not?

The recommended way to install Suse seems to be by installing a small subset of Linux (in my case burning a CD-R) and then using FTP (file transfer protocol) to pluck everything else directly off a server and right onto my hard drive.

If there are detailed… or even sparse… instructions for doing this, I couldn’t find them! The Suse installer started asking questions I had no answer for within the first few seconds of the install. There was no help button to press; nowhere to go. Using Google I was able to get some answers, but every time I’d solve one problem, another would spring up in its place.

Next I went to Debian; another respected distribution. They had a few network install suggestions, but all led to boot disks that were wrong or unavailable.

Finally, I went to Red Hat’s ‘cousin’ Fedora. There’s some sort of incestuous relationship here. I’m not sure what it is, but I think in some way Fedora is part of Red Hat.

I began the installation from 3 CD’s I had downloaded overnight a few days ago. A Linux distribution, even from a cable modem, requires hours and hours of downloading and then burning of bootable ISO CD’s.

Fedora seemed to understand what my system was all about (though it looked like the installation was taking place at 800×600 resolution on my 1024×768 laptop screen). It asked what kind of system I wanted loaded and when I chose ‘desktop’, the loading began.

I’m not sure how long it was… probably around an hour… when Fedora just stopped. A screen, telling me there were four minutes left, stared at me. No motion from the hard drive. No motion from the CD. Nada.

After a while I got tired of waiting and rebooted the system. What I had was nothing. The system wouldn’t boot. Linux wasn’t installed. I have just started the process again.

Maybe I didn’t have enough patience. Maybe the computer was doing some sort of Klingon Mind Meld and didn’t want to be disturbed? How should I know?

Even if this installation is fully successful, my job won’t be done. I’ll need to figure out how to enable my wireless network card, a printer hooked to my router and configure all sorts of computing minutiae, like email parameters.

Right now, it looks like the install will continue long after I’ve gone to bed. Maybe this will give the machine a chance to decide it wants to work this time.