“Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey”

So I’ve been told mnemonically for years. But when you’re home and automotive-repair challenged as I am, everything is much easier said than done, especially when the mnemonic device is easier to handle/figure out than whatever tool and/or schematic is necessary/advisable for the at-home/in-driveway repair. (We don’t have a garage, or much of a basement for that matter. It’s more of a cellar, actually. In fact, I call it “the dug out,” so lack of spatial accommodations can exacerbate the problem)

And that’s sort of how I feel whenever I attempt a home/car-owner-type repair. Soon after I organize whatever thoughts and tools I guess I might need: within minutes of the initial effort, I will have likely complicated the repair and will be forced to dig myself out, sometimes literally. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, I am a man of my word and that word is disaster. To invoke the great and often-quoted Dirty Harry

: “A man’s got to know his limitations,” (Magnum Force, 1973), and believe me, I do.

Granted, replacing bulbs in my house, as written in the final paragraph of last week’s column: “What To ‘Ware,” ranks pretty low on the home owner’s list of honey-can-you-do?. Nevertheless, challenges do present themselves, especially when height and a ladder – or a step stool, with no spotter, are involved. And when I’m looking up with arms outstretched attacking the problem: light fixture from multiple angles, sometimes, when I place my hand on the bulb, I begin to lose my orientation and am unsure where’s ‘Righty and where’s ‘Lefty.’ And even though I always remember ‘Tighty and ‘Loosey,’ when ‘Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey’ doesn’t immediately bring results, I tend to lose patience – and confidence, and slowly retreat to lower ground to reassess.

Unfortunately, there’s no one to call. I mean, when you fail at the most basic and fundamental responsibility a home/car owner has, it’s difficult, even for someone with as little ego as me, to admit abject failure. Repairing a toilet, installing light fixtures and/or ceiling fans; sawing, sanding, measuring, leveling and drilling; lifting, balancing and carrying; and anything else involving plumbing, electrifying; and even hammering and screwing in general, are tasks I don’t mind asking and/or paying for. Having been down this road many times before, I know it’s a path that won’t lead to my redemption.

So not wanting to make a bad situation worse, or create a problem where one or two previously didn’t exist, I have to employ the simplest of solutions. And what’s simpler than “a pithy observation that contains a general truth:” an aphorism (Dictionary. com), an aid to one’s lack of memory and ability to perform even the most basic of tasks, particularly as it pertains to a home owner: bulb replacement.

Not that this inability is at all defensible. It’s not. It’s totally indefensible and one whose defense is not all explainable by the most offensive of terms: cancer. Which as you regular readers know has been the bane of my existence going back to late Feb., 2009. That’s when my Internal Medicine doctor called me at work to share the results of my previous week’s surgical biopsy. His suggestion was that we met in his office to discuss the results. I shook my head in disbelief. If he wants to meet me in person, the results must be bad, I thought. Otherwise, he’d just tell me, right? I asked him to hold on as I found a private office for us to talk (me to react) and braced myself. He told me the growth was malignant and suggested I see an oncologist as soon as possible. An appointment was set for the following Thursday.

Much has changed in my life ever since that fateful day, but not as it concerns this home/car owner’s inability to handle the most mundane tasks. Might haven actually gotten worse. As for “the cancer,” as “Forrest, Forrest Gump” described the cause of his mother’s death, not so bad. I am alive and reasonably well, eight years and nearly two months out, six years plus past the end date of my original “13 month to two year” prognosis. Of that I’m proud. As for the home and car repair deficiencies, I could care less. I have to admit though, it is laughable – and pathetic.

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What To “Ware?”

Recently I received a very generous offer in the mail: a $10 gift certificate from my local hardware store acknowledging my upcoming/now passed birthday. From what I could read, there was no minimum purchase, no exclusions and no small-type print, just a reasonable expiration date: October 31st, approximately six weeks out from the day I received this unexpected gift. More than enough time, one would imagine.

The only problem: what am I going to get at the hardware store, other than the employees’ pity about how little I know about so much? Most of the time when I’m in a hardware store (typically I’m not browsing, unlike the cookie aisle at the supermarket), I’m attempting to solve a problem I have at home for which I have very little experience and extremely poor instincts at rectifying. Not only do I rarely know what I’m talking about, I don’t even know the proper questions to ask to enable/assist the employee in figuring what the heck my problem actually is – other than me, that is.

I’m very much out of my element in a hardware store. A fish out of water doesn’t begin to describe my situation. Tevye, from “Fiddler on the Roof” in speaking to his daughter, Chava, about marrying outside the faith came close: “a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?” Build a home? I have enough difficulty maintaining one that’s already built.

When I’m asked, or when I offer it, usually I say: ” I know two things: sports and chocolate.” I guess I could also add being a cancer patient/survivor, but I don’t want to redirect a perfectly innocent conversation into a totally different direction: me and my druthers. Although, my situation has been publicly consumed in the Connection Newspapers going on eight and half years; in person, I try to not let it be the first or even second thing that comes out of my mouth. And I never initiate, though I’m happy to respond if asked. Generally speaking, I’d rather it not be about me and my cancer. As my mother used to say “It’s enough already.”

But none of this comes up in a hardware store. In fact, the only thing that comes up is my Adam’s Apple as I sheepishly swallow and admit how incapable I am as a homeowner/do-it-yourselfer and how much help I need to do almost anything. At least the parking is free so it’s not a total loss.

As you might imagine, this situation doesn’t exactly lead to an easy conversation or a satisfying outcome. Quite the contrary. I know one thing for sure however, if left to my own devices, either I will cause additional and costly damage in my crude attempt to self-repair, or I will hurt myself in the process. And waste money as well, as the end of the day will likely find me and the problem no closer to a resolution than we were at the beginning of the day. As William Shakespeare might have written: it will be much ado about nothing as nothing much will have been done. In these recurring circumstances, all I can hope for is a safe landing, so to speak, one in which, as pilots often joke: I can walk away uninjured.

Given that I’m a tool twit and have failed miserably at homeowner 101, what then could I possibly buy at the hardware store with my gift certificate? I just got an idea: lightbulbs. I couldn’t possibly screw that up, could I? I mean, they’re supposed to be screwed up – into the socket, right? What could be more natural for me? One last question though: when I place the bulb into the socket, do I screw them to the right or to the left?

A Question Which Begs What Answer

Twice recently, in print, I have been asked the same question. Once on an evaluation of a previous doctor appointment, and within the last week, on a pre-registration form for an oral surgeon. The question: “How is your health?” “Excellent.” “Good.” Fair.” “Poor.” The two times I saw this question, I snickered. I mean, I have cancer: Stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer in fact, the terminal kind. And even though I’ve lived way beyond my original “13 month to two-year” prognosis, (eight and a half years and counting, always counting), I’m still undergoing treatment. I see my oncologist every three months. I’m not in remission. My tumors, so far as I’ve  been told, are not necrotic (dead). I’m still scheduling CT Scans, brain MRIs and PET Scans quarterly, semi-annually and yearly, respectively. And while amazingly thrilled to be still alive, my fate turns on the results of any one of these diagnostic scans so I wonder aloud: how is my health?

In the two most recent opportunities (I’ve had others) to answer this question, I have erred on the side of reality (my reality) and answered “Poor.” Whether I’m up and about or down and out, cancer is sort of the definition of ‘poor,’ isn’t it? Let’s be honest: who wants to receive a  diagnosis of cancer, regardless of type and/or stage. Moreover, it’s hardly the gift that keeps on giving. Quite the opposite. It’s like the houseguest who never leaves. It’s always there and the more it’s around, the worse it’s likely to get.

As much as one tries, a cancer diagnosis is hard to forget. Whether you’re still undergoing treatment as I am, or have been told you’re cancer-free/in remission/N.E.D. (no evidence of disease), the prospect of a life unaltered by the experience is unrealistic, especially so when questions are asked pertaining to your health. It’s not as if you become stigmatized by your cancer diagnosis and/or medical history, but you do become a lifetime member of a club you’d rather not have joined (the more serious and exact opposite of a feeling expressed by Groucho Marx when he so famously joked that he wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member). If only it were that simple – and funny.

A straight forward question about one’s health which requires a thoughtful and honest answer. Yet, an answer which somehow must, in my opinion, educate the asker. I’m not a normal respondent (no comments from the peanut gallery). I’m a cancer patient/survivor. Presumably, my immune system is somewhat compromised. What’s good for the goose is probably not good for this gander. My life expectancy is all fouled up. Cancer is likely in control. As much as I want to delude myself otherwise, the writing, if not necessarily on the walls, is certainly in multiple books and journals. And not that there aren’t exceptions to every rule (my survival is proof of that), generally speaking, a cancer diagnosis “spells trouble with a capital ‘T,'” if I may invoke the late actor, Robert Preston, from his career-defining role as Harold Hill in the 1962 movie, “The Music Man.” Still, life is going on, and not too badly, I may add. But on any given day … .

I suppose the solution then is an asterisk. But how does one add an asterisk to a standardized form. And given the evolving nature of our almost-entirely inhumane (non-human) electronic contact, where does one go/what does one say, to separate and be heard. I want to be treated equally, but as a cancer patient, I’m not. I’m different. If there’s a box for that, I’ll gladly check it. I want the best outcome, naturally. But not giving me the opportunity to properly define myself/my circumstances doesn’t help either one of us. And does even less for the next respondent.

Ought To Ship

I don’t want to praise the Lord too much for providing me with such a trivial and mundane benefit but, I sure am grateful when my 112 pounds of cat litter arrives/is delivered to my front porch, mere feet away from our cats’ litter boxes. “Auto Ship,” baby. No more am I lugging 28 to 44 pound boxes of cat litter into our five-indoor-cat household from the local supermarket and/or pet superstore. I don’t want to plagiarize a television “spokesthing” from my youth so I’ll give “Speedy” from Alka Seltzer proper attribution when I write as enthusiastically as I can: Oh, what a relief it is!”

The litter is my second auto-ship of substance; having made an earlier/similar commitment to 16 pound bags of dry cat food. I do get some fancy, multi-vitamins auto-delivered and my wife, Dina, as well receives special eye vitamins in the mail, but I thought that was the only way to purchase them, given that the manufacturers were out of town so I never considered them an auto-type ship. Previously, I had always resisted inquiring about getting products delivered from a national company when they are available locally. My thinking had been that since I’m home during the day, and regularly in and out doing errands at many of the stores that sell this merchandise, why ship it when I can shop it? It seemed redundant.

Now however, given the pleasure I felt when I saw that litter sitting on the porch without my having had to life one finger; well, a few fingers initially when I “keystroked” my way through this companies online registration, the light has come on. Moreover, given the neuropathy I have in my feet, I’m tired of walking around those giant  warehouse stores. Sure, the local proximity and availability is helpful but the bigger the buyer, the more effort the unloading/restocking is required at home. Perhaps I’ve simply come to a realization, and not necessarily an accommodation to my age, that less effort equals more overall value. And if in addition to less effort, I can buy products at equal or even lower cost than doing so locally, than I am sittin’ pretty in high cotton, if I may double-down on the benefit?

Not that I’m overworked and underpaid for the household duties I perform but, I’d rather be under worked and overpaid, if you catch my drift? And given certain realities to the many tasks now performed by hand, it’s up to me to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. And so, I’m starting to consider very seriously, ordering more stuff this way, especially bulky/weighty stuff and to let my fingers do the clicking rather than my arms and legs doing the walking and carrying. Let commercial/corporate America do the driving and delivering. I don’t have to prove my shopping mettle anymore. I’m ready to sit back and let the boxes do my talking.

I’m not quite ready to order food/perishable however. I feel a certain sense of calm and serenity wandering down supermarket aisles taking mental inventory of what’s present and what’s not – and what’s new and what everything costs. Not that I try many things as anybody who knows me knows, but occasionally, Entenmann’s or Hostess or Nabisco will surprise me with a new item and thus will have made the visit all the more sweeter. I wonder if I’ll have the same sensation perusing and clicking my way through a site that so far has been unseen – by my eyes, anyway. I guess it can’t hurt to explore a bit. I mean, it’s not exactly the dark web. (Is it?) Nor do I expect to use bit coins or have to create an avatar for myself. Nevertheless, the process does seem a little daunting; changing habits that have become habitual, and routines which have become routine. Seems a bit like turning an ocean liner around after it’s headed out to see. They don’t turn on a dime and neither do I. Still, I’m intrigued by the possibilities, and besides, I’m nearly out of laundry detergent.

Perhaps a test is in the offing. I don’t think I’m quite ready to join a club/pay a membership fee, but I am open to investigating. Time will tell I suppose, as will my first bill.

Talking the Walk

Our long, local, over night nightmare is almost over. By the date this column publishes: September 20, 2017, I will, for the first time in nearly nine weeks, not had to have snaked down in the dark, our “turny-twisty” and narrow 150-year-old staircase to walk from the upstairs master bedroom to the downstairs and only usable commode. Though the renovation of this upstairs bathroom is not entirely complete nor ready for primetime (it is mostly usable as the water is now running and flushing), the demolition/renovation process apparently must go on/adhere to a schedule so, on Tuesday, September 19 the downstairs bathroom, with all its fully functioning amenities will come under the sledge hammer – among other tools, and provide no further use until on or about October 24th.

This heretofore (“Good Will Hunting”) logistical challenge has not presented too many difficulties for my wife, Dina. But given that I’m a male of a certain age, quite the opposite has been true for me. Once or twice and occasionally even more per over-night depending upon how late and how much I’ve had to eat or drink before bedtime, I’ll need to visit the bathroom to attend to some very personal business. To be clear, the ‘challenge’ to which I refer is getting to the bathroom, not starting and/or finishing what I intended once I get there. Moreover, when the task at hand has been completed, of course I need to retrace my steps – usually in the dark, and walk back upstairs. Though not nearly as difficult as walking downstairs; nevertheless, at the time I am going down and back up, in the middle of the night, my vision might not so readily acclimate and my balance is, let’s just say: inconsistent, especially when trying to avoid the miscellaneous bathroom-remodeling boxes staged in the living room on the very route I must travel.

Needless to say, having this nightly nonsense come to an end is most definitely a column worth writing. Not necessarily to self-indulge anymore than usual but more so to amuse you regular readers and possibly even prepare you for your own in-home renovation. And considering that this renovation is our first – and we have minimal experience with these matters, I thought it useful to write it forward and perhaps share a less-than-obvious impact of taking the one-and-only-on-the-same-floor bathroom out of service. Sinks, mirrors and shower/tub issues notwithstanding, all of which can be withstood and endured with the reorientation to the downstairs bathroom, the commode issue, considering its unpredictability, naturally trumps all other real or imagined difficulties.

Though the upstairs bathroom is incomplete and lacking multiple finishing elements, its transformation so far is incredible – to our eyes. I’ll spare you any details because that really would be self-indulgent and not at all the point of this column. But the two months or so it will have taken for the upstairs bathroom to become operational again and the nightly effect it’s had on me appears to have been worth the wait.

As concerns the downstairs bathroom, we are now ready, willing and able to integrate its destruction into our routine. Given that it is more of a powder room than a master-type bathroom – though it will include a shower-only enclosure, no longer will it be my twice-nightly destination. In addition, I am looking forward to its transformation because the interim process will not prevent me from going anywhere I regularly go nor inconveniencing my wife, Dina, when she readies for work in the morning.

Monitoring its progress will be more of a curiosity than a calamity since, in my mind, there will be no sense of urgency about the pace of this project as there had been with the upstairs bathroom because my bathroom access will not be affected in the least. And in the most, I am extraordinarily grateful – and relieved.

“Kenny’s Story”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have given the Lyrica television commercial too much attention. But there sat a spokesperson named Kenny, his name clearly printed in red script on top of a white oval located above his right breast pocket on his custom-work shirt, a middle-aged white man like me, holding his left foot across his right knee talking about a medical problem that we both feel: the “shooting, burning, pins and needles of diabetic nerve pain.” It was odd seeing someone named Kenny on television referring to a problem that not-on-television Kenny also has, though my symptoms are not from diabetes; they’re from eight and half years of chemotherapy. Nevertheless, as Babe Ruth said about the sound of his throat-cancer-ravaged voice on “Babe Ruth Day” at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1947: “It feels just as bad.”

Campaign to date, according to ISpot.tv, within the last 30 days, “Kenny’s Story,” as it’s identified, has had “74 commercial airings.” And though I don’t think for a moment that this Kenny could be confused with that Kenny, considering that he’s an auto mechanic who “grew into a free-wheeling kid” and “enjoyed every step of fatherhood,” and I’m not ‘free-wheeling,’ not a father and know zero about cars, I do feel his pain, literally.

Now the fact that the words of advice are coming from someone named Kenny does give me pause however. Not that all Kennys have identical personalities or life’s experiences but knowing how little familiarity I have with this product makes me distrust him somehow. My name is Kenny and I’m not prepared to make those statements. How can he? It reminds me of a long-ago M*A*S*H episode when Major Frank Burns was feeling paranoid (as he said: “I’m only paranoid because every one’s out to get me”) because he thought “someone else is using my face.” None of which makes any more sense than my not believing spokesperson-Kenny just because his name happens to be Kenny. But there’s no accounting for viewer reaction, probably. That’s likely why there were a total “1271 airings” of Lyrica diabetic nerve pain commercials nationally over the last 30 days. “Kenny’s Story,” at 74 airings, was a small percentage of at least a dozen variations on this theme as well as a parallel campaign to address Fibromyalgia, a similar condition also treated by Lyrica.

It’s odd, of the multiple spots that have appeared on television, all of which show people living active lives – and being grateful for using Lyrica, only three: “Kim’s Salon,” “Michael,” and yours truly are “given-named.” All the others: “Coach,” “Grandpa,” “School Teacher,” “Keep the Beat Going,” “Helping Others”, as a few examples, are not. I’m wondering if “naming”/invoking names in these spots does in fact personalize the experience for viewers in a way that the pharmaceutical companies think is counter productive? Maybe naming the spokesperson/sufferer causes a reaction among Kims and Michaels that yours truly is feeling/writing about? Moreover, given that “Big Pharma” probably doesn’t want to limit its reach by excluding a segment of the market because of name recognition possibly lends some credence to the presumption that using a name to identify the individual in one of these spots is rare because it’s unhelpful. As it relates to these spots and their names, perhaps less is more, given how many research/clinical dollars (hundreds of millions of dollars we’re often told) are invested in the process of bringing FDA-approved products to market? Accordingly, I suppose “Big Pharma” can’t afford to leave any potential stone/”presrciptee” unturned.

I certainly don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I can only wander – and wonder what is it that makes sense here and where I fit into their universe. The commercials have hit their intended target: me, a patient with “shooting, burning, pins and needles … , but I have to tell you: I don’t like “Kenny.”

Nothing To Do With Cancer, Almost

How lucky am I? In the last two days, I have been the extremely lucky, though presumably random, recipient, of not one but two unsolicited phone calls offering me FREE accommodations at any number of Marriott and Hilton hotels, fairly reputable brands, I’d say. All I have to do is transport my wife, Dina, and myself to the agreed-upon hotel during the designated window of opportunity and voila, a semi-unencumbered vacation for two awaits. And believe me, the offer couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s be honest, what more than a cure does a “terminal” cancer patient need than a reasonably priced, stress free get away from his every day? Need I even characterize that previous question as rhetorical?

Now since I hung up rather quickly, I don’t have all the details, other than their phone numbers of course. Because, as you might imagine, I still have a few questions I’d like answered – you know, to optimize the benefits/coordinate the timing of our vacation. But the ‘unsolicited’ nature of the call didn’t enable me to organize my thoughts and ask all the appropriate questions. Nevertheless, the opportunity seems worthy of a follow -up phone call.

Ideally, what I’d like to do is bracket my vacation/air fare and the miscellaneous travel expenses I’m undoubtedly going to incur around the respective properties’ availability. Meaning, I’d like to fly once and stay twice; staying in their respective properties in the same city/location switching out of Marriott after my first free weekend stay and then booking into the Hilton for my next free weekend stay (and I’d be willing to pay for my mid-week excursion during the transition). In effect, making the trip a two-for-one as opposed to a not-going-at-all. And in so arranging, using as much of corporate America’s largess and marketing budget as is cleverly possible for a non-corporate America employee to exploit.

Not having pursued this possible presumption quite yet because I’ve just had chemotherapy on Friday and I’m not really in the mood to tangle with a fast-talking, smooth operator, who though he/she may have my best travel plans at heart, may not exactly be feeling my strain. So I’m going to wait a few days until I regain my bearings – and patience, and tolerance and call them back unsolicited at a time convenient for me but possibly not so for them and see if we can make a deal.

Because, to tell you the truth, if I could coordinate two hotel reservations – along with all the amenities with which I’m likely to be showered for accepting these extraordinarily generous offers, combined with some free air miles I’ve accumulated with United Airlines/their travel partners, this indeed could be the trip that my oncologist encouraged us to take when he first delivered the life-changing/life-ending prognosis: “13 months to two years” back in late February, 2009. Further adding that, before starting chemotherapy, was as good as I would likely feel for a long time. And as I have come to learn, the quality of my life is very important to my oncologist.

At that time however, I didn’t feel the need and/or wasn’t motivated my oncologist’s suggestion; I wanted to get started on my treatment. Now, eight and half years later, perhaps the timing is better, especially given that it presents itself at the beginning of a new Redskins football season. And if I may quote the late, great, former, head coach of the “Over the hill gang,” George Allen: “The future is now.” So let me sift through the offers this week and see if can indeed take the “trip we’ve always dreamed of.” I know it’s often said that you can’t go back. Maybe we can still go forward.