Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Snip - a Public Service Announcement

Warning: Severe Ick Factor Ahead!

If you are bothered by discussions of medical procedure, bodily fluids, or patients' eye views of urology, then I suggest you skip down to an earlier blog (you might have missed one or two). It's probably very rude of me to recount these events, but I consider this tale to be a public service announcement, and so I'm going to post it, anyway.

I told Bernie the boss, "I'm going to be out Wednesday, and I won't be back until Monday."

My friend Paul asked why I was going to be out (me, the guy known for working 72+ hours a week)... and I told him; time for the vasectomy. "Are you NUTS?" he shouted, then his cheeks colored and he shuffled off.

I understood how he felt; he was a single guy with all of his silly macho ideals still intact. But my lovely bride and I had four little kids in rapid succession. Due mainly to allergies, other options for population control weren't viable. It was hard to make the leap, but we decided we'd both make sure that IT couldn't happen again. And I was going first.

I went to the evaluation appointment, not sure what to expect. I did not expect a very cute, pixie-faced Doctor to explain my choices for the procedure in graphic detail while fanning illustrations of the options before her face. She showed me the three basic methods:
*Two scalpel incisions directly over each tube
*Two incisions made with sharpened shears (jab through skin, open shears to make 1/4 in. opening)
*One scalpel incision in the middle, and fish out the tubes with a probe...

She saw I had turned green, so she showed me the list of six doctors in the practice. "They will each perform whichever method you prefer - except Dr. Herzinger; he only does the sharpened shears. He says it heals better with a ragged incision." That's right, it was pronounced "Dr. HURT-zinger".

In the end, guess who was the only doc available for the forseeable future?

So I showed up the day of, having shaved as instructed. This was an awkward thing for me, and I followed the instructions precisely, marveling to myself that people would do this regularly. Feeling more exposed than I had since puberty, I lay on the table, only to have the Dr. shake his ancient head and say with sad disapproval, "Didn't do a very thorough job there, did you?" Then he seized a straight razor and deftly cleared half an acre I had never seen before. (Strictly speaking, I still haven't seen it.)

Once I was completely shorn, and utterly humiliated, the anesthetizing began. Have you had a dental procedure done? Or heard Bill Cosby's bit about Dentists? The way they jab in the needle, and then slowly wiggle it around while they inject their cold poison, was compounded by the feeling of my testicle being inflated to the size of a basketball. I white-knuckled the sides of the gurney, and just as I was certain he had decided to dispense with "incisions" and just POP the bastard... he stopped. I released my breath and my grip, grateful it had ended without any hitting or screaming.  The Doc nodded at me kindly and said, "Alright... now for the left one."

I survived, though, reminding myself that delivering four children was far worse for my wife than what I was going through was for me. Even watching him "tie it off" (like watching a rodeo bull-roping over the horizon of my own belly) didn't phase me after that.

And of course, I was expected to come back in two or three weeks for the Test. I needed to wait for everything to heal, of course, and then contribute a sample to make sure there were no stray swimmers finding their way out into the world.

Now, I had read "The Water Method Man", and had seen "Road Trip"; I had some preconceived notions (and not a little fear) of what this experience might involve. I was to be severely disappointed.

No "cute nurse" like in the movie; I got your basic Dundalk-bred troglodyte, complete with greasy ponytail and weak, acne-scarred chin, handing me a cup and saying, "Fill this to here, hon, and get it back within 45 minutes."

I was shattered. There was no "special room" for this, with porn or a fake boob or something? I didn't want to ask... there were scads of people in there! And Dundalkella had gone back to nibbling at a crab cake hidden behind her computer monitor. So I turned and left the office.

I went down to the car, and stared at the cup. It wouldn't take much, but where was I supposed to go? I only had (checking the clock) 40 minutes left, and home was twenty minutes away. Even if traffic was perfect, I only had a couple of minutes to try to produce a sample in a house full of screeching children! So I got out of the car and headed back into the building.

The men's rooms on the first three floors were either full of grunting patrons, or cleaning crews. On the fifth floor, I finally found some isolation. It was a dingy, brown-tiled orifice of a room, with peeling paint on the stall doors and no provocative graffiti. And there, despite fearful internal warnings about George Michael's arrest intruding on what I was trying to visualize -- I managed to produce my sample.

Handing the cup to the Gamorrean receptionist, she looked surprised to see me. "That was quick, hon!" I thought she had said I had 45 minutes, though. "Oh, for the love! You have 45 minutes from when you fill the cup!" At that moment, it dawned on her, and a few of the bystanders, just what I had done, and where I had likely done it. So I left.

"Man," I thought to myself. "I'm never doing THAT again!"

Decant the Midnight Lizard

Digging through old posts from 2003 or 2004, I found this:

I plunge my face into my pillow, and feel the cool fabric leach the heat from my strained and weary eyes. Clouds of the Sandman’s magic dust puff up around me, and I am already sailing away into a dream and relaxing into my pose of repose, which is not unlike that of the Coyote upon reaching the canyon floor in a Roadrunner cartoon.

“Did you empty the boy?” The voice of my lovely bride jerks to a halt my descent into slumber, and my body goes rigid as I fight my way back into wakefulness. I should have known I was forgetting something.

The Boy is three, and took to toilet training like a donut to coffee. The only problem he has is remembering to get up in the night to avoid drowning. It has become my job to empty him once before going to bed, and again in the morning before I leave for work. I don’t mind, except that he is an extremely heavy sleeper, as the twinge in my back will attest. I’ve lobbied against the nightly “dink o’walla” with all my heart, but have been consistently out-voted. I seem to be the only one who has made a connection between the 2.5 ounces of water he drinks just before bed and the 2.5 gallon deluge that issues forth from him between 10pm and 4am.

So, it falls to me as the last one down and the first one up to enforce the head call. If I don’t do it, he will awaken, cold and sticky, forty minutes before my alarm is set to go off, and will climb into our bed with his soggy drawers. The changing of sheets and pajamas (his and ours, now), and the wailing and crying (his and ours), and the rinsing off of his soiled body and tucking him into his remade bed generally leaves me with about ten minutes to go until I have to get up again. Not enough time to get any more rest, and too much time to sit and dawdle over my cereal.

This night, I am especially tired. The cold I have been fighting has resorted to guerilla tactics for the last couple of weeks. Gone during the work week, but suddenly appearing on Friday night. Sometimes it’s in my sinuses, sometimes in my throat, sometimes in my eye. I think it has a secret base in my liver, so I’ve been using the Russian remedy: one shot of vodka with a dash of pepper.

I drag down the hall, and grope about in his bed, looking for him. He is a small boy, and the bed seems large in the dark; he could be anywhere! He isn’t. I am about to give in and turn on a light when I feel something underfoot. It IS a foot. It is attached to the wee lad, who has made a nest under his bed out of stuffed animals, dump trucks, and a few Justice League action figures. Batman, devotedly standing guard, dives cowl-first onto my foot as I lift the boy like a sack of rice, and with a stifled yelp, I begin hopping painfully toward the bathroom, all while trying to keep a good grip on him.

Not many people fully appreciate how floppy the body of a sleeping child can be until they try to pick one up in the middle of the night. This one sags in the middle as I prop his head on my shoulder and drape his legs over the elbow of the other arm. It isn’t a problem until he startles awake and begins to writhe like a cat in a bathtub. I manage to prevent him from slamming his head into the door frame by slamming my head into the door frame. He will have an interesting vocabulary by the time he begins school. The blast of cranial pain distracts from the Bat-marks in my foot, though, and that helps me maintain my balance.

“Sh-sh-shh!” I say, trying to sooth him back into immobility. He relaxes a little bit, then suddenly drops back to sleep. I complete the journey to the bathroom with only minor limping, and try to stand him up on the little stool next to the toilet. His legs won’t go down. They waver bonelessly. They curl up under him, and he tucks his chin to his chest and throws his arms up, giving me nothing to hold onto. He almost slips away, but I manage to grab him by the elbows and haul him back up.

Now he’s mad, and his legs shoot out, as he explodes with furious activity. He is a whirlwind, a wolverine cornered, a many-tentacled rage beast desperate to get away from me.

Then, with a plop, all action stops. Something awful has happened. We stand there in the darkness, until realization dawns. He tears the night apart with his shrill, angry scream: “It’s CO-O-O-OLD!!”

He has planted his left foot squarely into the toilet bowl.

Yanking his foot free, he begins kicking savagely, liberally spraying toilet water hither and yon. Fortunately, it didn’t get on his clothing. After a brief tussle, I wrestle him up onto the sink, and jam his foot under the tap. I wash him, pat him dry, and stand him up - finally - on his stool. There, he proceeds to make water for an eternity.

I have time to wash myself up, dry, mop up the floor, check the pipes for wear, tidy the tub toys, and re-grout the tile. When he is done, I gently carry him back to his room, and place him gently in his bed, where he is supposed to be. I kiss him gently on the forehead, and whisper, “Sweet Dreams.”

When he whispers it back to me, all is forgiven, and I limp gratefully back to my own, sweet, welcoming bed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Deja Vu Again: AFBMT pt. 3

Six Little Words (pt.1)
Three Strikes (pt. 2)

Do you ever get deja vu?

Perhaps you do when you are standing back outside that strange, alien building again, holding all of your worldly possesions in a duffel bag. Five weeks ago - a swiftly receding eternity ago - you were standing here facing the unknown along with 45 others just as scared and sleep-deprived as you. Now you are facing the prospect of meeting 49 new "others" who have been getting used to showering, eating, and learning side by side for three weeks. You are going to be the outsider, now. You are the "Recycle."

For five weeks you lived under the constant threat, which the leadership was always careful to say was not a punishment. "Recycling an airman is just a way of ensuring that everyone gets the training that they need," is the official explanation. You watched carefully when they brought Recycles into your flight; simple boys with slack jaws and glazed eyes who obviously didn't know ass from elbow or shit from shinola. To be fair, you don't know what shinola is, either, but you're pretty confident you could pick it out of that line-up.

Of course, you also thought you could learn to fold your underwear well enough to pass an inspection.

Do you ever get deja vu?

Perhaps you do when you are staring up the stairwell at the door to your new flight, and the only difference you see between it and your old one is the number on the wall. Five weeks ago, you were pretty sure the worst year of your life was behind you. The hard luck, the cruel woman, the indignity of returning to your parents' house and realizing that you were pretty much to blame for the whole mess was giving way to a new life. And in five short weeks you have burrowed your way to rock bottom.

You choke back a hysterical giggle as the dorm guard crisply and efficiently goes through the entry routine - the same routine you watched your old flight botch time after time, sending you here as a result. Well, to be fair, it was that and the underwear. Then you are inside, being greeted by a guy with flinty eyes and the kind of jaw you generally associate with Batman. He is your new dorm chief.

Deja vu never lasts, fortunately.

Dorm Chief is the student commander, usually chosen at random from the ranks of each flight. Your old dorm chief was a soft-spoken boy from West Virginia whose name was quickly corrupted into "Muffins" behind his back. He had always seemed a little overwhelmed. This new guy's name is Shocke, and he exhudes authority. If it weren't for the trainee name-tag and the telltale stubble on his head from his "Welcome to basic training" haircut, you would have guessed he was one of the TIs.

You're actually glad it's him greeting you instead of the TI. This flight belongs to SSgt Perro, a tiny woman with a huge presence. You remember hearing her march her flight and you shudder at the thought of that shrill, vicious voice, yelping like an insane, steroidal chihuahua. No one messed with her. One foolish airman - obviously a defensive lineman from some inner city high school - made a snide remark in her hearing during PT. Something about female airmen being allowed to do the pushups "on their knees." There is nothing as chilling as watching a skinny, five-foot woman bringing a six-foot, 200+ pound black man to tears so quickly.

Shocke seems to be as no-nonsense as SSgt Perro, and wastes no time in orienting you to your new environment. "We're going for Honor Flight," he begins. "I don't know what you did to get recycled, and you don't have to tell anyone, but if you do anything that threatens our chances to win, I'll make sure you disappear again." He manages to say this without sounding confrontational or threatening. "If anyone gives you any trouble, tell your squad leader, or come straight to me and we'll deal with it."

You are shown to your new bunk, and given a general introduction. You can't help feeling like a bug under a microscope, even though no one is paying particular attention to you. All you can do is unload your duffel and put your wall locker in order. When you finish, you turn to find the squad leader, Larsen, has been watching you, and you offer a wan smile.

"You seem to know what you're doing," he says. "Do you have any questions, yet?"

You shake your head, and start to make up the bed. He helps you get the sheets on, but when you spread out the faded olive-green army blanket - known as the "dust cover" - he blanches. There are coin-sized white spots all over it, which you assume to be bleach stains.

"Oh, crap!" Larsen squeaks. "Don't use that!" He calls Shocke over, and takes away the bedding.

"I'm sorry," Shocke says, briskly. "We were supposed to get you clean linens. The guy that used to be in this bunk got sent to the Med Center for psych evaluation yesterday. The guard caught" he fumbles for the right word, and blushes a little "...pleasuring himself." He strides off with the wad of offending linens, and the rest of the group offers apologetic mumbles to you.

Other than that, things go pretty smoothly.

After a day or two of handling your duties competently and staying out of trouble, people start to accept you. You let them believe you were recycled solely for failing inspections, and they offer to pitch in to help you pass the next one. Oddly, you pass with very little help.

Since you already completed all of the mandatory training for week four, you find yourself left alone to guard the dorm while the rest of the flight visits the rifle range and attends classes. You become a minor celebrity with your foreknowledge of the different activities they've heard so many rumors about. You resist winding them up over the number of shots they'll get (only four), and the supposed violation they all fear from some rumored medical exam (no cavity searches), and tell them all about the obstacle course. Excuse me, the Confidence Course.

You are even accepted to the point that your squad lobbies SSgt Perro to allow you to re-do the Confidence Course with the flight rather than stay in the dorm, much to your relief. Not only were you incredibly bored with that duty, but you were starting to have trouble staying awake - a fate worse than Recycle awaited the sleeping dorm guard.

And no way were you going to ask her yourself.

The next morning, when your new flight enters the chow hall for breakfast, you spot a familiar face working behind the food line. The new flight had just finished a week of KP before you got there, and now, it is apparently your old flight's turn to do Kitchen Patrol.

You aren't supposed to talk in line, but you risk a greeting. You old flight mate whispers a quick hello, and leans forward: "They aren't treating you bad, are they man? 'Cause if they're picking on you at all..."

"No," you say, "They've been great."

And then Shocke is there. "Is there a problem?" You tell him who the KP guys are, and his eyes narrow. "If they're picking on you at all..."

It's touching, actually. Fourty-nine people on each side of the line are actually concerned about your welfare. Ninety-eight people ready to jump to your side if you need help. You coast the rest of the day on a cushion of comraderie.

There's only one real problem brewing: you are getting sick. You don't let on that you aren't feeling well, for fear of being recycled again. This close to freedom, you aren't about to risk it; there will be time for illness AFTER week six. But the long days spent on your feet guarding the empty, overly air-conditioned dorm, alternating with the marching in the 104 degree San Antonio heat are taking their toll on your immune system.

After keeping up for a couple of days, your body has had enough; while standing in line in the chow hall, you collapse.

When you come around again, you're sitting on the floor with your head between your knees. SSgt Perro is asking you questions, and you hear yourself answering from ten miles away. "Are you alright?" Yes, ma'am. "Can you get up?" No, ma'am. "Why didn't you go to sick call?" I didn't want to get recycled again.

"I respect your tenacity, airman, but you need to take care of yourself!" She is speaking kindly, and she doesn't sound like a mad chihuahua. She sends you to the clinic, where you get a nap, and some medication. You feel better in the morning, and the last week cruises by.

So now, you've done it. You made it through Air Force Basic Military Training.

In some ways, you aren't sure what you have learned from it. Attention to Detail? Trust in Authority? Rely on your Teammates? Maybe it is all just a screening process to keep out the fatally insane, and the obvious nut-jobs, like the unmourned Reames. All you known is that you are proud, and that you are excited about moving on to the language school.

And that new, proud feeling is the opposite of Deja Vu.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reality Denial in Children

I have four (4) children. They range in age from 8 to 14. That means that for the last 8 years I have had four (4) people in my home between the ages of 0 and 14. I am well aware that this number is far too small to represent any kind of statistical sample of the general population - but despite that fact, I feel safe in drawing some conclusions about children.

Observation A - A child has an object - such as a toy, a cup full of milk, or socks (on their feet). Later, the child is unable to locate said object, even if it is pointed out to them.

Conclusion 1: When something a child has in their possession loses contact with that child, it ceases to exist.

This object or possession effectively disappears when the child lets go of it. You or I may see the object fall from the child's hand and fall for a very long time and shatter in a spectacular display of destruction and disorder, and the child WILL NOT NOTICE. And when you call attention to said object, they will be surprised to discover it there in a pool of its own constituent elements.

Observation B - The child pours a cup of milk. The adult, witnessing this, cautions the child not to leave the milk on the table (where it will inevitably cease to exist - and also become cheese). Despite this helpful warning (see Conclusion 3), the child will later deny leaving the cup of very new cheese on the table in the sun.

Conclusion 2: The history of a given object has no bearing on its current condition.

This idea manifests itself in a variety of ways. In the previous example, the child will deny breaking the object - regardless of their shared history with that object. Even if they have carried that cherished possession with them for an entire day, singing songs about it and professing their love for it, when they become angered and hurl it away, Conclusion #1 takes effect, and Conclusion #2 allows them to say - with all true honesty and belief, "I didn't do that!"

Observation C - Child sitting on the couch, pulling socks off of their feet, is warned that socks do not belong stuffed behind the cushions, and nods violently with understanding (while craning to see the TV). Later, when confronted with the 5 socks discovered in the cushions behind the spot where they were sitting, they deny loudly and sincerely having ever placed any sock anywhere. The adult will insist on the child removing the socks to their laundry basket. This is declared to be completely unfair.

Conclusion 3: Cause and Effect are not related.

Observation D - You observe a child armed with a dark crayon traversing a room. No other children are home. Upon entering that room a few minutes later, you discover a new work of art not in the Sotheby's catalog, but sure to be worth $24.95 (for the jug of caustic chemicals which will be required to remove it, and the paint to patch the marred spot on the wall). When asked, the child will nod sagely, and cluck with false sympathy that it must have been Sibling A or B - who have both been at school for 4 hours.

Conclusion 4: The existence of Other Children absolves every child of all blame for everything - ever.

If you have an Only Child, you may not have noticed this phenomenon; that is assuming that you also have no pets, cousins, local playmates, convenient adults (like Dad), or imaginary friends for the Child to blame. They don't have to live with you in order to take the rap.

I do hold out hope that these phenomena are limited to the larval stage of human... despite the existence of Doomsday Believers, Global Warming Deniers, and Supply-Side Economists.