Sunday, June 26, 2011

A pain in the belly and a change in weekend plans

I often complain about how nothing ever goes the way I plan it. Take Friday, June 24, 2011 as a prime example.

I'm warning you right now that there is a photo of surgical wounds at the end of this blog. You have been warned, just like Grover warned you all those years ago in your Little Golden Book that "There's a Monster at the End of This Book."

The day went very well. I got a lot accomplished at work and at home, and had written up about 10 items of out of about 30 to post for sale on ebay. Then the pain hit. It was in my belly. Jenn had made an amazing dinner of Dr. Pepper pulled pork, or something like that, and it was delicious. But I suspected that I since it was a new dish, maybe I just had gas, and I wouldn't be able to eat it again. No big dea.

But something was ringing in the back of my head, like "this is not just gas. This is something different." I went about my business for about an hour, until at around 9:30, I told Jenn that something wasn't right, and if I sit up in bed screaming to take me to the ER. She said my belly was hard and suspected gas, so I took some Gas-X and waited to see what happened. Around that time, my pain level was about 3 on a scale of 10.

I wrote up three more sale items, and noticed the pain was getting worse, not better, so I quit. We decided to go to bed around 11:30. At around midnight, Jenn said I was breathing funny and asked me if my pain was worse, or had moved. I admitted that the answer was both, but I didn't want to tell her because it was midnight and I didn't want to go to the ER and be stuck until 3 a.m. We were both very tired.

Jenn called her sister Heidi, and dropped me off at the ER door to register while she took Kaleb to Heidi's house.

When I saw the ER doc, he did the typical prodding and poking and said he believed appendicitis, which was exactly what we thought it was.  He ordered a blood test, IV, and a CT scan.

I wasn't thrilled about the IV. The last time I was admitted at a hospital and had my very own room, was in high school or college when something very similar occurred. At that time the nurse poked me three times with the IV needle (which is roughly the size of a knitting needle), and dug around each time, hoping to strike a vein. That incident was so painful, I literally told my mom to get her the f*** out of my room before I punched her. Even her replacement had to stab me twice.

At that time, I was at the hospital for the same symptoms as I had this last Friday night, but the pain was worse then. My parents didn't want to drive me to the hospital, which was about a half mile away, because they thought it was gas. I told them "You drive or I'll drive. Either way, I'm going." I don't think I had my license at the time. At that time in my life, I had a freakishly high (I mean absurdly super-human high) tolerance for pain. So when I gave that ultimatum, they decided to take me. I was admitted for 3 days before the doctors shrugged their shoulders, said "we have no idea what is wrong with you" and sent me home.

So I was apprehensive about being here again about 20 years later with the same symptoms and getting another IV with no tests having been done and no definitive answers. This nice little 80-year-old lady came in and said she was going to take some blood and start the IV.. While I am no stranger to blood tests, I decided to just look away until everything was over and not see the IV needle so I wouldn't flip out.

I told her about my previous IV experience and told her "I like you so far, so don't make me hate you." I was joking, of course...maybe.

She poked me with what I thought was a blood test (I have really bad veins, so I thought she might have a hard time. I asked her "warn me when you do the IV." Her answer was "it's done." I turned, looked into her eyes and said "I love you." Ask Jenn. She used the IV to take blood, then started me on saline and gave me a shot of morphine.

She handed me a what looked like a 30-ounce jug of clear (radioactive?) juice for the CT scan, and told me I had 10 minutes to drink it and an hour to wait after that to get the test done. I downed it in 2 minutes, not 10.

The CT scan went fast, and when I got back to my ER stall, the doctor came in and said the bloodwork came back consistent with appendicitis, and we would see what the CT scan said. At around 4 a.m., he came back and said I was being admitted for appendicitis and he was calling the surgeon to handle it the next (Saturday) morning.

I got to my room at about 5 a.m, and had to answer a bunch of intelligent, and a bunch of really ignorant questions. They told me they would leave us alone to sleep, but still came in every 15 minutes or so to bring this sheet of paper, or sign that sheet of paper, or help me change into a surgical gown, or ask me a question, or grab a chart that they had accidentally forgotten. In short, we didn't sleep much.

At about 7 am., I took a shower and scrubbed my belly with a special cleaning solution. The doctor came in and talked us through the procedure at around 8:30 a.m. I asked him about a catheter and he said "how do you know about that?" My answer was "I'm not stupid." Good news, he said. The catheter goes in and comes out (as does the small breathing tube) while I am under anesthetic and sleeping well. Good deal.

Being wheeled down to surgery with my mom in the background.
Everyone as picking on me, talking about what a big baby I was
about having to get a catheter,  except the guy in the blue.
I thanked him for being on my side. Scroll down much further and
you will see a photo of my surgical wounds. You have been
warned twice now. No complaining!!
My mom and my gurney arrived while we were talking to the doctor, so I got wheeled down to surgery right away. By about 9:15, the anesthetist put the mask over my face and told me to breathe deeply. I remember counting to seven quietly by myself and wondering why I wasn't knocked out again. Next thing I know, I'm waking up, head full of cobwebs with two nurses staring at me from a nursing station saying "there he is."

They wheeled me back up to my room and I slept a restless sleep for quite awhile. My mom had gone at some point, and Jenn had gone home, showered and changed, as well.

The next 3 or 4 hours are very unclear. I finally shook off the uggyness, and ate the jello and drank the two cups of coffee and the Sprite that they brought me. I called my mom and gave her an update, and invited her back up. Jenn left again to do some shopping to prep for my homecoming, which was expected to be that night. Mom and dad came and visited around 3:30 p.m. and stayed until about 5:15. Mom said I kept talking and drifting off, then waking back up, talking again and drifting away. I was told if I could eat solid food, I could go home. I demolished the dinner plate. By the time Jenn returned, I had signed my walking papers and was ready to go. I was home by 7.

The night went by pretty well, but I didn't sleep much. In fact, I dozed off for 20 minutes at the most, but was able to watch the movie Gladiator from beginning to end, only rewinding a few times to catch what I missed to sleep. I know I was up a lot going to the bathroom, getting more to drink, and taking a painkiller at 1 a.m.

I fell asleep after 4:30 and was awake by 7:45. Jenn made me an omelette and coffee, and I scarfed that down as well. I took a shower, and we went to church. Then we came home and sat out in the yard for a bout three hours. While I was out there, my feet started itching, so I took off my shoes and socks, and I had this horrible rash on my feet. We sat there and watched it grow, even after rubbing cortisone cream on it, and taking two Benadryl. We don't know if the reaction was caused by the antibiotic I was given at the hospital, or the Percoset, so we called the doctor. He called in some Vicodin for me, and Jenn is picking that up right now. The rash has mostly faded from my feet, and the itching is all but gone.

Two of my three incisions in the awesome shave-job they gave me while I was out.
No, you may NOT see the third incision.
I consider myself pretty lucky. I was in and out of the hospital in less than 24 hours. I have three small incisions from my laparoscopic surgery, and some scars with a good story behind it. My pain level is very low (the highest it got was a 6 on friday night just as I was registering at the ER, and hasn't gone above 2 since then). I didn't have to experience a catheter while awake, I was able to get some reading done, and I'll be off for a week. Add that to the following 4th of July weekend, and I will have a 10-day recovery period before I have to return to work. That will allow me to read even more, work on some more small e-bay write-ups a few at a time, and watch some movies that nobody wants to watch with me. Jenn has been awesome, handling tasks that I usually do, and not complaining about it when I ask her to get me something or taking something away for me.

Mom and dad have visited at the hospital and at the house, I was able to update my progress and keep everyone informed through the wonders of my smart phone and the social media, and I got a new blog entry from it. The only downer is that I'm not allowed to drive for at least a week. That's frustrating. But so be it.

This is only my second surgery ever. My first one was to straighten my eyes out when I was six months old or so, and I don't remember that one. Hopefully, this will be my last surgery.

And to think...all I had planned for this weekend was to write up ebay sales and read.

Thanks to all of those who have thought about me, prayed for me, sent me cards, and sent well-wishes on Facebook. I consider myself a very lucky guy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Golden List

Recently, I read a book titled "The Ultimate Gift," by Jim Stovall. The book is about the basic life skills we all should have but don't. It's about all of the stuff of life that we know but don't practice.

One chapter is titled "The Gift of Gratitude." The main concept of the chapter is The Golden List, and the premise of the Golden List is simple: "every morning before he got up, he would lie in bed...and visualize a golden tablet on which was written ten things in his life he was especially thankful for" (p. 124).

Today being Father's Day, I would like to take this time to let you all know what I am thankful for. It's been awhile since I've taken stock of my blessings, so I do this as much for myself as I do for all of you.

1) I am thankful for the opportunity to be a daddy. My two boys, ages 7 and 2, each have their unique personalities and troubles, and they are nothing like each other in terms of temperament, but they are amazing to watch as they grow and change both in looks and personality and spirit.

2) (A corollary) I am thankful that a goofy-looking guy like me can have two such good-looking kids. It still baffles me.

3) I am grateful for second chances. My wife Jenn is the second chance I thought I would never get, nor deserve. My neighbor even told her once that I wasn't a very happy guy until I met her. My neighbor was right. Until I met Jenn, I didn't think I would be happy again.

4) I am grateful for maturity and understanding. Jenn and I just hosted a cookout at our home for my best friend from high school (and godfather to my youngest son) Kyle, and my ex-girlfriend from high school, Laura, who I dated for six years. Laura's husband Bill and their three daughters joined us and we all had a fantastic time. Kyle and another friend from high school who joined us, Heather, still don't get it, but Jenn, Laura, Bill and I get along great. There is nothing better than spending quality time with great friends.

5) I am thankful for my brother Lance. I don't talk to him often, but we share a love for 80s arena rock (especially Poison) and an ability to Name That Tune (song, band, album, and sometimes even track number for bonus points) in less than 2 seconds. And when life isn't all Guns 'N Roses, we both know there is a place to turn to vent or confess or seek advice in complete confidence. My brother knows at least 3 of my deepest, darkest secrets and I completely trust him with those and thank him for his firm, frank and loving advice.

6) I am thankful for my best friend since High School, Kyle, who was mentioned before. He took me in when I was out. He picked me up when I was literally down. He talked sane when I wasn't thinking insane. He made phone calls that I should have been making. He minds his own business until he no longer can, but is smart enough to ask questions and not jump to conclusions. Kyle has been my safety net and my best friend. And just this last week, Jenn and I came to fully realize what a wise choice we made in asking him to be our youngest son's godfather.

7) I am thankful for my job. After being laid off for 9 months, I gained a whole new respect for security and the pride that can come from having a job. I LOVE my job (mostly ... but I think everyone who loves their job can find one or two things they wish they could change), and I am so thankful for the trust, openness and honesty that my bosses have shown in me.

8) I am thankful for my old boss who layed me off in Wendy's at 3:15 p.m. with Poison's "Every Rose Has its Thorn" playing on the restaurant radio (not that the details are seared into my mind or anything). At the time he told me that he was probably doing me a favor. It turns out he was doing me a favor for several reasons.But it took me 2 years to realize that.

9) I am thankful for one of my former co-workers who saw me heading in a wrong direction and pulled me into a private room to talk some sense into me. That talk sticks with me today.

9) I am thankful for the kindness of strangers. When I was laid off in February 2009, I called everyone  with whom I had an account. When I called my Internet Service Provider and explained my situation, the woman on the other end of the line said she had been in the same position a few months before, and knew the hardship we were facing. She then waived my Internet bill for the next three months. The Internet was my prime tool for my job hunt. I cried on the phone with her I was so grateful.

10) I am thankful for the network I have and the people that I know. Do you have any idea how good it feels to wake up at midnight in December and the furnace doesn't work, but there is nothing to worry about because the furnace guy knows you and comes out and has it repaired within 20 minutes, sparing you the need to go to the local 24-hour big box store and buy 3 or 4 heaters? It's that kind of feeling that keeps me really warm.

11) I am thankful for finding blogging  as an outlet for this uncontrollable urge to write. All of these pent-up ideas need somewhere to go, and I am excited to share them with you.

12) I am thankful for the relatively good health of myself and my family. I am a horrible eater and I know it. Each night, I find something to snack on. Tonight, I ate 3/4 of a bag of tortilla chips...plain. My lips hurt and my sodium intake is high enough to last for a month. But I'm healthy...and skinny. But as I said, it's all relative. Last week, the 2 year old was in the emergency room with a temperature of 106.8. Also last week, Jenn had a summer cold. But in the big picture, we are healthy people.

13) I am thankful for a trustworthy vehicle. More about that nightmare in a later blog.

14) I am thankful for my parents. While not perfect, they have guided me very well. We have been on some rough seas lately, but I hope we can dock together soon and come to terms of love and mutual respect for the other's ship.

To find out more about what I am reading (should that for some reason interest you) you can follow me on Good Reads. Alternatively, you can find almost everything else about me at

Thanks. For everything. I mean it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome to Camp Crazy

Why do I do this to myself?

In my entire life, up until about 3 years ago, I had been camping exactly three times.

Pokagon (I think) in 1980-something. That's me on the left in
the all-blue. My brother is on the far right, next to my dad,
who is wearing the green shorts and red cap.
The first time was at Pokagon for a weekend in Indiana in the early 1980s with the entire family: Grandma and grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins. All I really remember is playing Sorry inside bug netting by the light of a Coleman lantern that hissed at us, fishing at the top of a dam or multi-tiered waterfall or something, getting a bunch of Garbage Pail Kids at a nearby carry-out, and having to turn around when we were about 20 minutes into the trip because we forgot sleeping bags, or charcoal. I was 10 years old at the time, tops.

The second time was in Brown's Woods off of U.S. 6 between Weston and Bowling Green. It was a one-night scouting event with my dad. I remember canoeing on the tiny pond and hearing "Purple People Eater" for the first time on the radio.

That's me in the very middle, in front of the tree, looking like I have a spotlight
shining on my face. This was taken at Spiegel Grove in 1997.
I camped there a year or two later.
The third time was at Spiegel Grove (President Rutherford B. Hayes' house) in Fremont in October, 1998 or 1999 as part of a Civil War reenactment. I remember that I was alone in the tent, and it was COLD.

What I decided during those times was that camping was not for me, and here is why: You spend two days packing a bunch of crap, shove it into your often grossly-undersized vehicle, drive for two hours, then spend the next four hours busting hump to unpack, keep the kids entertained/out of trouble, set up the tent, light a fire, make dinner, get everyone fed, get everyone around for bed, then fight the 2-year-old to actually fall asleep, which he eventually does at 1 a.m.

Then you post yourself in front of the tent fly so that when said 2-year-old wakes up at 5 a.m. full of pistons and vinegar and ready to strike fear into the area wildlife population, he can't get out of the tent without waking you up. Then you spend the day chasing the kids around, talk about seeing/doing a lot of things, then spend the next 3 hours trying to wake up because you got overheated while reading in the shade and passed out. Then you repeat the nighttime ritual, beginning at lighting a fire.

The next morning, you wake up, go to the campground church service if there is one and if that's your thing, return to camp, and spend the next 2 to 3 hours trying to keep your kids entertained and out of trouble while you strike camp. Then you have to light the fire one last time, feed the family, and put out the fire before you can leave. By that time, you are exhausted, you smell horrible (even if you took a shower every day, face still stink), and all you want to do is go home.

Eventually, you actually DO get home, and it's time to relax. No, scratch that. Rewind. Start this paragraph over...

Eventually, you actually DO get home and you have to unpack all of the crap you packed up in the first place (half of which you didn't use), put it away, do laundry, put THAT away, feed the kids, get them baths and get them to bed, take a shower yourself ('cuz you still stink there, Slick), and you get done just in time to.....

Go to bed and get up at 6 a.m. to head off to work Monday morning. But your mind isn't at work on Monday. It's at home thinking of all of the stuff you could have/should have done over the weekend instead of "screwing off" camping.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Maybe for a masochist on par with ... well, your famous local masochist (interestingly, I Googled the phrase "famous masochists" and only came up with one name...the Marquis de Sade, who was a sadist, not a masochist...and apparently a dentist. Who knew?!).

Enter my wife Jenn, whose family has horor stories involving standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, multiple blown tires, and topics too embarrassing to blog about.

My family and our tent at Maumee Bay State Park.
Long story short, we now own a tent and camp regularly. Amazingly, I found myself in March wishing it would warm up enough and stop raining so we could go camping.

And all that stuff that I said about the two-year-old happened to us just recently. So did the going to work and not wanting to be there part. Ugh.

So why do I do it? There are several reasons:

1) To keep Jenn happy. When Mama ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy. ;) (Love you dear!!!!)

2) To teach my kids that there is more to life than a Nintendo DS and sports.

3) To untether. Which is really hypocritical of me since I take my Nook and my smart phone, and was kicking myself a little for not taking at least one laptop this last weekend. But when I use that stuff while camping, it is for entertainment purposes, not for work.

4) To get away from my life. It's not a bad life. I just get tired of it sometimes. It's nice to get away from it.

5) Because when all of the work is done, it's fun to throw the ball around with the kids, have a water balloon fight, or just sit around and read.

6) To force myself to learn patience. I suffer no fools and put up with no bull. Tell that to my 2-year-old. Please. Once he gets older and goes to sleep at a rational time, I can stop telling myself that I go camping to teach myself patience, and just enjoy it. Right now, I get a headache just thinking about it.

The most recent weekend was spent (as most are at this point) at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio. We had a lot of fun. There was some stress, like the toddler who refused to go to bed...ever; the toddler who decided it was okay to run out into the "street" several times, or hide in the tall grass (fortunately we only saw one tick this weekend, and it wasn't on anyone). But the water balloon fight was fun. The 7-year-old perfected riding his bike and started taking treks on his bike alone this weekend. I also helped him earn a Cub Scouts badge.

A great shot of the oldest that Jenn took.
This one has a throwing arm like his older brother.
Kaleb with Papa, showing off their work gloves.
Jenn's parents are state park volunteers and camp there all the time. They serve as campt hosts and help keep it clean and run programming. The oldest signed up to volunteer last year to earn credit toward a Cub Scout badge. This last weekend, Jenn and I signed up to be volunteers. We will be covering for her parents as camp hosts in August while they are at a wedding or something.

While camping this most recent outing, we also found a fox snake that was trying to get into the restrooms. We captured it and contacted a ranger. He came out and used a tool to scan it. He found a tracking tag under its skin, and measured and weighed it before releasing it in a safe location. Had he not found a tag, he would have sent it to a university so it could get one, so they could track its size and movement throughout the park.

Camping is a lot of hard work. Sometimes, it's more work and headache than the two days are worth. But between all of the hard work, there are some good memories and a lot of life lessons...and stress.

And we are already planning our next trip. I think Jenn reserved our camping spot tonight. I'm looking forward to it. I think.

(All photos except the first three (the third was taken by Papa), were again taken by my wonderful wife Jenn. Click here to learn more about Maumee Bay State Park)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Memorial Day...more than military for me

Image by Dead Legend
Memorial day is past, but I still find it important to post this blog entry.

In fact, I started writing it on Memorial Day, but decided to wait to post it, in order to honor everyone I could manage to remember. Thanks to my Facebook friends who helped fill in the blanks.

The intent of Memorial Day is to remember and honor those who lost their lives in defense of this nation. I do. I thank and honor them. And I also give a shout out to my sister-in-law, Lindsey Kreikel, my brother-in-law (and Lindsey's husband) Aaron Kreikel, who is now in Afghanistan...or somewhere thereabouts), and my wife's cousin, Erik Bruns, who served in Korea, and is now in Afghanistan.

But for as long as I remember, my family also has used Memorial Day to remember and honor our family members who have died, regardless of their military involvement, or lack thereof.

The last 53 weeks has been difficult for our family.

On May 16, 2010, Jenn's grandfather, Robert Refsell, died in Iowa at age 85, following a very long battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

My great-uncle, Floyd Van Vorhis  (top row, third from left) died September 1, 2010, also at age 85.

My grandmother, Ellen Jane Van Vorhis (bottom left, sitting next to my grandpa, Emerson Van Vorhis) died Feb. 10, 2011 at age 87.

My great-aunt, Eileen Becker (back row, far right, next to Floyd) died March 30, 2011, at age 92.

During the last two Sundays, I have visited the grave of my grandfather, Cloyce Lance (shown with me many many years ago), who died Feb. 5, 1995 of cancer, and was buried on his birthday...his 73rd, I believe. He is buried in St. Louis Cemetery in Custar, Ohio.

On Memorial Day, 2011, I was able to drive out to visit the graves of my grandmother and Great Uncle Floyd, who are buried in the same row, along with my great-grandparents Frank "Cap" and Ina Van Vorhis, my great-aunt Willow Marie Van Vorhis, another great-uncle Everett Van Vorhis, and an aunt Patty Lou, who died in infancy, in Graham Cemetery in Wayne, Ohio. While I was there, I also found the graves of additional family members, who are my great-great-great grandparents, Hiram Newton Van Voorhis (spelled with two o's), his wife Sarah, and their son Owen, who died in infancy. It was a nice, surprising find. I had my camera with me, and I was going to take pictures while I was there to share with the Van Voorhis Association on Facebook, but I decided not to, out of respect for others visiting their loved ones.

I don't stop at remembering and honoring family. I also use Memorial Day to remember the friends, school-mates and co-workers who have died. That's a hard thing to do, because there are so many. I am 36 years old, and not including family members, I have lost more than 35 friends, school-mates, and co-workers. I quit counting when the number reached 35, but by now, there have been more than 40. I am sorry to say that I can no longer remember all of their names.

Here are the ones I remember (and some that others have helped me remember), based on where/how I knew them). I did not necessarily have close, personal friendships with all of them, but many I did, and all of them, I knew who they were. My apologies to those and the families of those whose names I have forgotten.

Otsego Schools:
Andrew Roller
Chad McVicker

Bowling Green Schools:
David McCutcheon
Jodi Krone
Kevin Korn
Ben Gedeon
Tiina Panksepp
Kevin Wolf
Maggie Quinn
Stephanie Sanders
Travis Bechstein
Alicia Castillon
Christa Allen
Julie Carr
Philip Lybarger
Brian Bell
Tiffany Martin
Eve Eriksen
Jennifer Place

Bluffton College:
Jonathan Kozlok
Duncan Makhulu
Andy Lehman
Jacki Rupp
Reginald Elkins

Sandra Smith
Chris Miller

You can donate to the Alzheimer's Association here, or to the American Cancer Society here.