Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Second Heart Attack

For the purposes of relieving my mother (the worrier), my sister (the nurse), my father, and several compassionate friends from church and beyond, I am going to state, for the record, that I have NEVER had an actual heart attack.  Not a first... not a second... none.  I will be talking about a time when there were a number of symptoms going on but it was most definitely not my heart.  I would like to say, before I begin, that I am not a doctor, I have not been trained to teach people about medicine or medical procedures, and that I am offering no advice except for this:  If you are in so much pain that your wife thinks you are having a heart attack, let her take your dumb ass to the doctor!  We now return to the regularly scheduled blog.

I would apologize for the title but the first thing they teach you in the Rich and Famous Blog Writing School is to have an opening that grabs people.  Of course there are some people out there who may have read the title and thought, "Yay!  Go for three!"  To you, I offer a loud and disrespectful raspberry.  (Sorry you all had to see that.)

Many years ago, when Kristiana was a toddler and Jake was still an infant, I was given one of the most stressful classrooms I have ever experienced.  The difficulties in the classroom are not important to the story, what is important is that, apparently, I hold onto my stress in my back.  With the challenges I was facing at work and various other stressers my back was a mess.  It was actually quite often that it would feel like someone was trying to sew my shoulder blades together with dull hot needles...and that was when it didn't feel like I had a linebacker balancing on his elbow in the center of my back.  Unfortunately, I was semi-used to being in pain back then. (no pun intended)  I had good days, not so good days, and bad days, but I always managed to make it to work.  My students were accustomed to my strange faces, wincing, and even walking with a cane.  I was used to explaining to people that I had just hurt my back...again.  No, not in a bar fight.  No, not lifting a burning bus off of nuns.  No, I was used to explaining that I had hurt by doing really manly things like, picking up a package of Kool-aid, getting out of the car, or standing up.  You know, manly activities that require strength and agility!

My story today actually begins on a good day.  In fact, I had been having such a string of good days that I forgotten (almost) about my troublesome body parts.  It was a normal morning of getting ready for work, making my lunch, and then I went out to get the paper.  I noticed that the light over the door was out so I reached up to unscrew it.  Something about standing on the balls of my feet, twisting slightly, and reaching for the light bulb made something pop in my back.  I was in instant excruciating pain!  I forgot the light and tried to inch my way down the hall to brush my teeth so I could go to work.  (Did I mention that I was used to this?)  I was about three quarters of the way down the hallway when Kristiana happened to run past me toward Mommy.  She was excited, she was three, she touched me ever so slightly on the hand as she went by.  That was enough to spin me a fraction of an inch, but it was an unanticipated fraction of an inch and that was the exact wrong thing that my back needed.

That slight movement amplified my pain times least!  In a span of about ten seconds I turned sideways, stopped breathing, clutched my chest (because I couldn't reach around and clutch my back), leaned against the wall, and slid to the floor.  I couldn't talk.  I couldn't take a breath.  I was as white as a ghost.  Kristiana was worried.  Sylvia was worried.  I finally managed to squeak out a feeble, "I hurt my back."  I stayed there reassuring Kristiana that Daddy just makes that sound sometimes.  It wasn't her fault.  I'll be OK.  I breathed haltingly through clenched teeth while I am sure Sylvia went to get the phone to call 911.  She stood over me saying, "I'm calling an ambulance.  You can't even breath."  Me, stupidly, "No.  It's just my back.  I'll be fine in a little while.  Just don't move me while I sit here for a second."  Sylvia was unconvinced but I told her that I had hurt my back trying to reach for a light bulb.  It was not my heart.  I would be fine.  The pain started subsiding, I managed to get up, I took some ibuprofen, and then I...wait for it...went to work.

Just so you all don't think that I am a complete moron, I did call the doctor and set up what was to be the first of many appointments that resulted in my seeing a physical terrorist (not a typo) who actually was a linebacker and, as it turns out, actually knew how to balance his entire body on his elbow while on the center of my back.  My apologies to all the other people in the hospital, next door at the pharmacy, and the bowling alley a mile and a half away, who had to listen to my screaming as he "worked out the knots."  I was given exercises to do, ways to stand, sit, and lay, and never had an episode as bad as the one in the hallway ever again.

Jump forward a number of a special education teacher I was given several opportunities to go to workshops where they trained us in many areas.  I learned how to work with aggressive children.  I learned how to do paperwork in new and exciting ways.  And I learned how to do Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation.

On the day that we were trained in CPR the instructor was talking to us about the ways we could help people.  I went into the training thinking that things hadn't changed much since I started getting my certifications in junior high school.  As it turned out things had changed since the last time I took the class.  I listened more carefully.  Then she said that there were new symptoms for people having heart attacks.  Chest pain. Knew that.  Left arm pain.  Check.  Then she said that many people have had heart attacks and not even known it.  Wait, what?  She said there were signs that do not fit the classic symptoms.  One was back pain.  She now had my full attention.  She went on, shortness of breath.  Then she hit the jackpot...Denying to your wife that you are having a heart attack.  Uh oh.  I thought back to that day when I convinced Sylvia that I was not having a heart attack.  I went back in time and re-lived that morning as the instructor added cold sweat and lightheadedness.  I was sure I had that back then too.  In fact I think I felt a majority of those symptoms again right there in that room!  Dangit!  Was I having my second heart attack because I was learning about my first one?!

I actually got worried that I had had a mild attack but didn't realize it at the time.  Holy cow!  As I listened to her go on to the next subject I thought about how I should probably call the doctor to see if there was something to do now that I had this new knowledge.  How do I start that conversation?  Hello, I think I had a heart attack a few years ago and I think I am having another one while learning about the first!  I imagined that they would refer me to another department where they might, wisely, examine my head.  I decided to talk to the nurse who was giving the training during break time.

When everyone else went to lunch I walked up to this poor woman who had no idea what was coming and told her my tale of woe, starting with my symptoms.  She agreed that it sounded like I had, perhaps, suffered a minor heart attack based on what I had told her.  And then I said, "Yeah, and it all started out because I was changing a light bulb."
She said, "Wait a minute.  You did something to make it start, and you could do something to make it better?"
"You didn't have a heart attack.  They just happen and you cannot make them feel better by moving a certain way. Enjoy your lunch."

I took her assurance and ran with it...and forgot all about it until I opened a letter from my doctor stating that my routine chest x-ray was clear.  Good thing...I have to change a light bulb later!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hope You All Enjoyed It

Thanksgiving is a time of tradition.  We have many Thanksgiving traditions in the Garrett family.  We gather.  We expend copious amounts of energy making the house look more organized than it typically is, and then say, "Excuse the mess" when others come over.  We feast.  We play games, talk, and laugh.  We take turns writing in the "Thanksgiving Journal."  There are literally dozens of traditions that we observe, consciously or unconsciously, each Thanksgiving. But the most rigid, the most sacred, the most religiously followed tradition is not known to be followed until the day after Thanksgiving.

Every year in preparation for the yearly feast, my family plans on gathering at the Garrett household for Thanksgiving.  We contact everyone and count the people who will be attending.   We carefully and thoughtfully review (and then reject) the subtle changes suggested for the menu each year.  No, the stuffing will not include nuts.  No, we will not be deep frying the turkey.  No, we will not be making yams simply because they add color to the table.  We assign roles, take stock in what we have, what we need, and then go out and purchase enough food to feed the 1st infantry...following three days of starvation training.  And yet, even this is not the tradition that is most adhered to.

This tradition has been passed on from generation to generation, family to family, from as long back as I can remember.  I remember hearing about observing this tradition the day after eating at my aunt and uncle's house when I was in elementary school.  It seems like only thirty years ago (it was more like forty) that we were sitting and watching the Wizard of Oz while waiting for dinner to be set out on the table.  There were two families of five so they took it easy on the food.  There was a ham, a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams (with mini-marshmallows), gravy, green beans, rolls, jello, ambrosia salad, cream cheese stuffed celery sticks, and black olives for all the kids to stick on their fingers.  And every year my aunt would come out, look at the table, straining under the weight of more food than city ordinances would allow, with an appraising eye, and then head back into the kitchen while saying, "Hold on everyone...I'm going to make a green salad."  Green salad?  If we hadn't eaten in a week and invited everyone we'd ever met we wouldn't have been able to eat all the food on the table...and yet Aunt Pam wanted there to be a cushion of food just in case.  And this still isn't the tradition.

No, I discovered that we had honored this tradition this year when I looked in the refrigerator this morning to see if there were any leftovers that might be loosely considered breakfast worthy.  I looked past the gravy and the stuffing.  I considered the deviled eggs briefly.  I decided there was too much infrastructure that needed to be moved to get to the leftover turkey and then I saw them.  The artichoke jalapeno dip and several Pillsbury ready-to-bake crescent roll packages sat exactly where we placed them in preparation for last night's meal.  It seems that the tradition on our family is to plan to serve something, either as an appetizer or side dish,...and then don't.  

In no particular order, according to year, I have heard, "I hope everyone enjoyed the, rolls, jello salad, shrimp, oysters, fresh fruit, stuffed peppers, crackers and cheese, or pickled herring."  At some point in the planning, one of us (probably shopping while hungry) said, "Oh, that would be good.  Let's get that for Thanksgiving."  Only to have it sit 'snug as a crescent roll in a pressurized tube' well after the meal.  (I've always wanted to coin a phrase so if you will start using that crescent roll one, and give me credit, I would appreciate it.

As delicious as warmed artichoke and jalapeno dip is or fresh, hot crescent rolls are, I'm certain that we sent no people away feeling unfulfilled.  More likely we sent away people with that feeling of regret over having taken one too many helpings of whatever...only to "find room" for "just a taste" of two different kinds of pies as dessert.  I'm certain my great-great-great-great grandmother would be proud to know that the tradition of leaving something prepared and uneaten is still going strong.  Of course the times have changed and we no longer, like her, leave the squirrel casserole in the oven until long after the meal was finished...that was last year.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Advertising and the Rhythmic Intestines (not the name of a new band)

Ever have one of those times when you just know you are supposed to do something?  I had one of those yesterday.  In the span of about forty-five minutes three people asked me similar questions.  "How's the blog business?", "How's the blog going?", and finally..."You better start writing again, or do I have to cut you!?"  So here I sit on my first day off for Thanksgiving break and I "decided" to write this morning.  Honestly, I wasn't too worried.  I mean, this all happened in the courtyard at church between services...and the knife the pastor was holding was really kinda small.

I told one person that I hadn't written in a while because I was having a time-management issue and how I used to just sit down and pound out a blog in an hour before the family woke up, but that was when I had stories swishing around my brain like flies around the hind end of a cow.  (some people are saying, "So that's why your writing is like that!")  Now, to be honest, I have fewer stories to tell.  Oh, there are still stories swishing around...doozies...but right from the start I promised that I would not use this as a place to embarrass anyone.  That means there are certain timelines that are in place.  There are some stories that are too fresh to be seen as funny by those involved...others I will need to write and lock in a secret facility to be published only upon my demise.  I haven't written them no point bumping me off...Ya hear that pastor Mike!?  (not her real name)

Yes, sadly the ideas are sometimes not as forthcoming as they have been in the past.  Don't get me wrong...I could sit and pound out a group of words every day...I'm sure that some of them would even make you, laugh out loud, cry, snort, or even pee your pants (all comments that I have gotten from readers...apologies to the pee-ers...but most especially to the pee-ees) but alas, since no one has seen fit to pay me to do this I have to relegate my blog to hobby status and only write when time allows.  Yes, I am spending energies on keeping my marriage and my children alive.  We've just gone through another set of x-rays and specialists to find out if a wrist was broken or just sprained.  Kids!  What're ya gonna do!?  Today, even though I am positive I turned off the alarms for my first vacation day, one snuck through the settings and I am up at six, writing without a topic...sort of.

I told myself, last night, that if I was awake early enough I would write something this morning.  I didn't have a topic so I thought, I'll write about whatever pops into my head first thing in the morning.  I considered writing a status on Facebook that said, "I am looking for blog topics...give me something to write about." I always feel a little sorry for people who try to get attention like that...BUT IF YOU WANT TO SEND ME SOME BLOG IDEAS HERE IN THE COMMENTS OF THIS POST I CAN GUARANTEE THAT I WILL GET TO THEM IN FUTURE BLOGS!!  And this is not sad, because it's not on Facebook you see...isn't relativism wonderful!?

Back to this morning.  I woke up, fed the dogs, and as I was walking back in from the back yard I heard it.  "AcTIVEeeeeUHHHHHHHH."  No, I didn't have the TV on.  At least not one that anyone else in the world can see or hear.  I heard it back in the center of the brain that is usually relegated to re-playing "It's a Small World" over and over again.  Plain as day I heard the sing-songy final word of a yogurt commercial.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen (and certain knife wielding clergy) the topic for today is yogurt that helps old ladies go poop.  At least that is how they described it on a TV show.  If you don't like it, you may lodge a complaint with my brain.  Ask Sylvia for the details, she does it all the time.

In case you aren't familiar with Activia.  It is a product that is packaged nicely, displayed prominently, and marketed effectively.  I'm sure the only people on the planet who even knew that Activia existed were the people who were making it...enter Jamie Lee Curtis...complete with new natural hair color.  You know what they say, gray is the new blond.  Analysts have spent countless hours talking about how she is showing people that this product is great since she is willing to be its spokesperson looking natural.  There are many commercials in the series of selling.  Jamie getting up in the morning.  Jamie talking to people at a cafe.  Jamie in a ball gown dancing with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (But I may be thinking of a movie instead of a commercial)

Whatever the scenario, Jamie interacts with women who talk euphemistically about how this yogurt has "changed their lives."  There is a lot of "moving along" talk, and how everything "got going" but they cleverly stay away from the "p" word.  There are several times when Jamie does a little wiggle and moves her arms like she's hula dancing.  I am guessing that this is supposed to simulate the action taking place in your large intestine.  But I tell you what, I don't think I want my innards doing anything even remotely similar to the hula.  In fact that may make me a little uncomfortable if I was at a staff meeting and I noticed that anyone in the room had a dancing colon.  When these women are dancing the wave and talking about feeling better than they ever have in their lives, the commercial pops onto the screen (notice...there's only one "o" in pop) a disclaimer that says something like, "...when eaten three times a day."   Well I'm not going near anything that is going to make my entrails shimmy...and definitely not three times a day!  I'm going to predict that there is going to be a new disclaimer attached.  "If your insides dance or feel like they may be wearing a grass skirt ...longer than four your doctor."

All right, Sylvia is up.  I am going to leave it here.  I'm not sure if the kids are up...after I publish this my pastor will tell me where they are being held.  (Kidding!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Smart? Nah...

Every once in a while I do something that some may consider smart.  I cannot point out too many examples..but it happens.  I may have mentioned before (in an entirely humble way) that I have been called a fairly smart guy.  Of course, that is the only way that people who know me through this blog would know that I wasn't drooling on the keyboard as I wrote.  My grandfather used to say that I was a "pretty smart feller."  Come to think of it, he just as often called me a "pretty fart smeller" so that may not be the best indicator.

Actually, deep in the dark recesses of a couple of damp and moldy archive somewhere lay a few test results that say my intelligence quotient is in the genius range.  There are also a couple of gray haired men, scores of people I know, and practically all of my high school teachers all standing around scratching their heads wondering how they should re-calibrate the machine.

After I heard the first results (fans of The Big Bang Theory on TV can picture Sheldon saying, "I'm not crazy.  My mom had me tested.") I looked into joining the Mensa club.  Apparently it's a club that you can get into if you, like me, were able to pull the wool over some tester's eyes.  I looked into it.  It sounded boring.  And gave up.  A bunch of people standing around solving word problems.  No thanks.  Although I do like an occasional logic puzzle...but I digress.

My favorite story that I came across while looking into this particular club was told by a worker on a marina.     It seems a group had rented a large party sailboat to go out on the bay for the day.  When they came in to port they settled the bill, emptied their belongings, and left.  The worker then started cleaning out the boat to get it ready for the next group in the morning.  When he got to the rigging for one of the signal flags atop a mast he saw that it was jammed.  He couldn't secure everything that he needed to because it looked like a flag was stuck in the mechanism far above the boat.  The only way to handle it was to climb up the mast and hold on with one hand while untangling with the other.  He did that, and after about ten minutes of pulling and untangling, hanging on for dear life, he realized that the group had put their flag on upside down and that had been the cause of all the trouble.  After he freed it and dropped back down to the deck (I apologize to all sailors out there who are cringing at my non-nautical expertise) he unfolded the flag to see that it said, "MENSA!"

As usual...I told you all of that so I could tell you this story.  I was reminded of my brush with intelligence last week when I was given the task of picking up a pizza for when Sylvia and the kids got home from a church function.  I wanted to time it just right so I would have hot, delicious pizza ready for them right when they came in.  I went to the restaurant with what I thought was plenty of time.  I should have known there was something different when I couldn't find a parking space.  There are three businesses in their parking lots and two of them were closed...all of the cars, trucks, and motorcycles(!) were there for pizza.  OK, so technically the people who maneuvered the vehicles to the parking lots were there for pizza...but you get the idea.  I walked into Round Table and was met by a wall of leather, patches, beards, and chains connected to wallets.  Apparently every other Thursday is the night that Harley Davidson riders from near and far converge to have a meeting.  And there I was in the middle of this sea of manliness trying to act as tough as I could...while wearing my faded pink polo shirt.  (I said I was smart, not wise)  The line to get pizza was all the way out the door and I joined the slow parade toward the cashier along with dozens of people who were "Charter Members", "Oakland Chapters", and "Bay Area Prouds."

And that is gets me to what I really wanted to tell you today.  One time, about thirty years ago, my friends and I were in a similar situation at a different Round Table pizza parlor.  It was absolutely mobbed and we considered it a bit rude since it was our hangout and we hadn't given permission for anyone else to come.  The line to order the pizza was about fifteen minutes long and on top of that, the people at the counter were answering the phone orders and making the people who were in line and having to smell the delicious pizza while waiting for food.  As I stood to get into line (I was a few months older than the rest of the youth group so I was the designated orderer) I walked past all the people in line.  Something in me just said, "Let's give it a try."  I walked past about a dozen people, picked up the pay phone by the door, deposited my dime, and ordered my pizza ahead of all the other people.  Not the nicest thing to do to all the people in line...but I was young and self-absorbed.   I just remember that at the time I was fairly proud of myself for being so clever.  If you are kind, nobody will mention the fact that I had to reach back a few decades to find a good example.

Looking back, I see that I wasn't so smart as I was mean to the people standing in line.  But I felt good about it at the time.  So much for joining Mensa.  I'm sure they have an ethics clause or something...but maybe the guy in charge of that is still waiting in line for pizza.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Face

It's happened again...I got the face.

I should be used to the face by now but every once in a while it surprises me anew.  I get the face much more from women but occasionally from men.  The last time I got the face I should have seen it coming, but I boldly went where experience has told me that I should fear to tread.  That's right...I told someone what I do for a living.

I sometimes get the urge to make up a career.  "I'm an underwater welder on explosive oil rigs.  Yeah, they only call me when all the other guys refuse to do it.  You know, because I laugh in the face of danger...and I'm so tough I don't even need to wear a wet suit.  The mask interferes with the shark repelling knife I am holding in my teeth."  And then I would spit out a giant wad of chewing tobacco...just to prove how manly I was.  I bet guys who say things like this never get the face.

Sylvia and I were out and about (oot and aboot for my Canadian readers) a while ago when she ran into someone she knew.  Small talk, small talk, small talk...and then she asked, "So Jeff, what do you do?"  My standard reply is "I'm a teacher." which is fortunate because, well, I am a teacher.  And then she said, "What do you teach?  High school?  Junior high?"  Ignoring the urge to make something up about teaching Chuck Norris everything he knows about Karate, or pretending that I teach anger management to violent prisoners at Quentin...IN A STEEL CAGE!   NoI said, "Kindergarten."  That's when she broke into the face.

It's a little difficult to describe the face unless you have seen it, but I will try.  Imagine an eleven year old girl who has just listened to two and a half hours of Justin Bieber songs...while hugging his picture.  Then imagine that young master Bieber sent his personal limo driver to her house with a box full of fuzzy little kittens.  Get the picture?  The eyebrows move together and up, the mouth becomes a small smiley "o" shape, head tilts slightly to the side, and you hear a faint, "Awwwwwwww!"

I have to admit, when I first started teaching kindergarten I didn't fully examine the ramifications of this as a job.  I knew I would have to teach these four and five year olds everything about being a student.  "Your bottom belongs on the chair."  "Tell her you don't like when she touches your face...don't hit her."  "The pencils are for writing, not eating." and my favorite, "Take that paper out of your ear!" but I didn't expect how others would react.  And I certainly didn't expect the face.  

I'm sure it doesn't help that I am fairly tall.  I'm not a giant.  I have zero prospects of being a professional basketball player and the Lifetime channel will never do a half hour special figuring out how I cope in the 'normal height' world, but at 6 foot 3 inches I do tower over my students.  A lot of people (non teachers) say, Oh I bet your class is so quiet since they are scared of how tall you are.  Let me (and every other teacher in America) just say, "Yeah, right."  What they should say is, I feel so sorry for your back since you have to bend in half to get to their level.

It is sort of funny when you think about it, tall guy, short students, it would probably make a great movie.  Let's see, Arnold Schwarzenegger could play me...yeah, he could be a policeman who kind of falls into being a teacher in a kindergarten classroom.  They could call it Kindergarten Cop!  Man!  This is just rolling off my fingertips this morning!  I have to call Universal Studios!

Actually, that is the second most comment I get when I meet people.  "You should see Kindergarten Cop!"  To which I say, "Really?  What's it about?"  There really is very little I have in common with that situation.  My Arnold muscles are well hidden under a protective layer of cheeseburgers, I actually worked toward being a teacher, I didn't just fall into it, I don't teach in a little town in Oregon, and I almost never bring a gun to school.   Maybe I'll just embrace the comparison.  Does anyone know of a school that teaches how to speak in an Austrian Accent?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go deliver this box full of fluffy kittens...Awwwwww.