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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Swan Song

Well, folks, it's been real. Do you know what today is? It's February 2nd, that's what. And do you know why that date is significant in my life? You don't? Shame on you. Exactly one year ago today, February 2nd, 2010, I was admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Little did I know that I would be there for five weeks. Little did my family know that for the first week or two, I would be hanging onto life by a thread. So I've decided that this somewhat unsavory anniversary would be a logical time to finally close this blog down. I think it's quite obvious that there have been times of late when I've had difficulty coming up with suitable topics for posts. That said, I hope most of them have been worth your time. I hope you found them either entertaining or enlightening or some combination thereof. On the whole, it's been a lot of fun for me, and definitely theraputic as well. Journaling is well known as a useful tool in therapy, and I don't think I would have been quite as prolific if I knew that the only one that was going to read what I was writing was me. Officially I had fourteen "followers", many of whom read one or two posts and fell by the wayside. Then again, there were some folks who read the blog without officially becoming followers, like Ruthie (hi, Ruthie!). I'm not literally shutting it down, though. If there's a topic that I'm aching to get off my chest, I'm gonna fire up the ol' computer and let 'er rip. I have a feeling if I do that, the blog will be in danger of becoming all about politics, and that'll probably bore you even more than my health stuff did. Maybe I'll concentrate on funny stuff. There's a supposed "humor writer" in one of the Jewish magazines who's so unfunny, it's painful. And yet he seems to be making a living doing it. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he's a really bad plumber or stock broker or salesman and is writing his drivel to try and make ends meet. The sad part is, Jews, for the most part, are pretty funny people. Have you ever noticed that most famous singers are (or maybe I should say "were") Italian (think Frank Sinatra, Al Martino, Dean Martin, Perry Como) and most famous comedians are Jewish (think Mel Brooks, George Burns, Jack Benny, Woody Allen)? Jews carry their angst around with them in their DNA and it's there's a wealth of funny material to be culled from angst. Have you ever noticed that "angst" has four consonants in a row? Have you ever noticed that "Borscht" has five? Have you ever noticed that sometimes I write things that aren't very interesting? Getting back to humor writing, most of what I've read that purports to be funny usually isn't. I've read George Carlin and Woody Allen and found neither of them particulalry funny. David Sedaris*, however, can be quite amusing at times. You won't be guffawing and falling off your chair, but I usually find him fun to read, if not funny. There is a difference, you know. For example, what you're reading right now is neither. So zei gezunt** everyone, and I hope I will too. You might want to check back every so often to see if I've added some brilliance that the cyber-world absolutely could not do without, but so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye for now. And don't forget to stop and smell the flowers.
PS Oh! I almost forgot to tell you! As of today, I am officially completely, totally, 100% off Prednisone! Someone say Mazel Tov!

* Here's a link to some David Sedaris quotes, a few of which actually made me laugh out loud. WARNING: This link contains some adult language and subject matter.

** Zei Gezunt = Be healthy.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Just Shut Up, Already!

It hasn't stopped snowing, it seems, since the Bush Administration. There are no more fire hydrants. There are no more curbs. There are no more trees. Everything is covered in gargantuan mountains of black and gray and white New York snow. There is civil unrest brewing; you can feel it. People are beginning to snarl at each other. Paths between the aforementioned mountains are narrow and erratic. Sometimes you have to yield your right-of-way. Sometimes you don't want to. Rumor has it that there's a movement afoot to assassinate all the local meteorologists, including Sam Champion, for goodness sake. Craig Allen I could maybe understand, but Sam Champion? By the way, do you think Sam Champion is his real name? And if so, shouldn't he have gotten himself a mask and a cape and some tights and gone on to a career as a superhero? Most folks understand that the weather guys are not actually in charge of the weather, but there is always the fringe element that's perfectly happy to shoot the messenger. The reason I bring all this up is to illustrate that it's become exceedingly rare to have a civil conversation with a stranger anywhere in Brooklyn. People are just fed up with all the snow and many have become downright ornery. So when I met Harvey the other day, he was a pleasant surprise. I had asked two of my landlord's sons to try and dig my car out for me. I hate to admit it, but I have become totally physically incapable of such arduous tasks. But I said that I'd only allow them to do it if they'd accept money from me. They adamantly refused. I now interrupt this post for a word about my landlord and family: I really lucked out this time. He's a really nice guy, his wife sends me warm potato kugel almost every Friday and his kids (seven boys and one girl, some married) are great. So the two boys, ages about seventeen and ten, are cleaning off my car when Harvey shows up. He's parked right across the street, and his car is even worse than mine; it's pretty much just one big mound of snow. Now the kids are splitting their time between my car and Harvey's. I really didn't mind; I had nowhere important to go. I just wanted the option to drive if there was an emergency, like if I suddenly needed to go to the movies. So now there was nothing left for me to do but crawl back into my apartment, which didn't feel right, or shmooze with Harvey. So I shmoozed with Harvey. Or, more accurately, he shmoozed with me. When I approached him, I noticed that there was something physically wrong with him, but I couldn't quite figure out what. He was just standing there in a slightly awkward, unnatural position. He told me he was sixty-six (obviously way older than I) and how very happy he was to meet me and how very happy he was to still be around. Ooookay. What have I gotten myself into, I thought. Then he launched into his story. Harvey had been in a horrific car accident some years ago and had almost died. That's when I let the conversation turn into a "can you top this?" Oh yeah, I thought, you think you've got problems? I proceeded to pull out my trusty "in-a-coma-and-almost-dead-at-Columbia Presbyterian" picture from my wallet, where I keep it handy for just such an occasion. Didn't even slow him down. He was about to give me all the gory details about the accident when I played my trump card: I showed him my trach scar. No good. He had the unmitigated gall to show me his. Uh-oh, I thought; I might actually have met my "please feel sorry for me" match. So I finally just shut up and let Harvey talk. The firemen had cut him out of the car with the "jaws of life", he said. The cops had mistakenly told his wife that he was dead, he said. And, just for good measure, he told me that as a result of the accident, he could no longer lift his arms, so his hands, although not paralyzed, were pretty much useless (I'm still trying to figure out how he drove his car). There was no doubt about it: Harvey was in worse shape than I. What a chutzpah! But seriously, I did learn a valuable lesson from our conversation: telling someone about your problems gets old really quickly. About halfway through Harvey's tale of woe, in spite of the fact that I was really, really trying to be a good person and listen, I started zoning out. When the subject was not my traumatic experience, I simply lost interest and lost it fast. So that left me with two heavy questions to ponder: 1. What does that say about me?, and 2. Am I guilty of the same offense, boring people to tears with my own problems? I'm still working on figuring out the answer to the first one. The second one is kind of rhetorical.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Beth Israel: almost a hospital.

Hatzaloh: the Jewish cavalry.
I just got home. As usual, I was at Chayie's house for Shabbos. This time, the Lench family was there, too. That's seven people. Also in attendance were Babby, Avi, Shanna and Chana, Mendy, Rivky, and Blimi and Dovid for Lunch. Oh yeah...Dave was there, too. Feige and Ester walked over after lunch. As you can imagine, the place was on wheels. It was noisy, messy and occasionally stinky. In other words, it was great. Everybody (with the possible exception of poor Chana, who didn't feel well) had a good time. When a Lakewoodian contingent such as the Lenches comes for the weekend, they take over the basement, my usual stomping ground. Since the Bienenstocks next door were away, I stayed in their basement instead. In the past, however, I have usually become upwardly mobile under these circimstances: I have either kicked Rivky out of her room on the second floor or gone all the way up to the attic. THE ATTIC! Omigosh! It all came storming back to me. The last time (I think ) the Lenches and I were at the Fisch House for Shabbos together was exactly one year ago. The last Saturday in January in 2010 fell on the 30th, and this year it's on the 29th...close enough. Well, a year ago today is when my journey began. That was the Shabbos when I was so short of breath, I landed in Beth Israel that Saturday night (see "The Calm Before the Storm", post of August 1st). I was walking up and down the stairs all weekend and becoming sicker as the day went on. I had brought my baby lovebird, Pumpkin, with me because I was still hand feeding him, and Blimi and Dovid's lovebird Blueberry (the one I called Sunshine) was there too, for reasons that escape me. Saturday night we let the birds out and they were merrily flying around. One of them landed on top of the drapes and wouldn't come down, so I climbed up to get him. When I sat back down on the couch with the bird perched happily on my finger, I kissed him. Right on the beak. Babby was appalled. So was Chayie. So were the Lench kids, who all said "uchhhhhh" in unison. I was just being my usual contrary, head-in-the-sand self. So what if I couldn't breathe? Is that any reason not to show some affection to a teensy little birdy who never did nothing to no one? Well, is it?? I know that Chayie thought that I should call Hatzolah, but she didn't say anything and I didn't want to. It wasn't till much later, after I had gone home to my dirty, mousey, roach-y apartment that I finally gave in and called. The guys took one look at me and then at my SATs and had me strapped to the gurney; I was too weak to argue, and to tell the truth, I knew it was the right thing to do. Maybe I was just scared. Maybe I somehow knew unconsciously that this would be the beginning of a truly hellish experience, and I wanted to put it off as long as possible. But the bottom line is, I apparently wasn't stubborn enough or self destructive enough to stay home that night. I guess when the chips (and the SATs) are down, the will to live really does kick in. En route in the ambulance, I told the guys that I since my pulmonologist was associated there, I wanted to go to Beth Israel on Kings Highway. After they finished looking at me like I had two heads, that's exactly where they took me. Verrrry reluctantly. It probably would have made sense for me to listen to two volunteers with absolutely no axe to grind, whose only reason for being in a speeding ambulance at 2:00 in the morning when they could just as well have been home with their respective families, was to save my life. Maybe I wasn't thinking clearly or maybe I was just being me. In retrospect, I wasn't doing myself a favor by being me. I should have tried being someone else for a change.  Anyway, as usual, I've gotten way off the main point I wanted to make, which was that it's hard to believe a whole year has gone by since that fateful night.  Obviously, much has changed.  The main thing I've learned is never to take anything for granted: at 59, I figured I was good for another 30 years.  At 60, I wonder if I'll get hit by a bus tomorrow. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dilemma

Ron Howard,
who has lots of money.

Ron Zweig,
who has no money,
but is much better looking.

First, a disclaimer: this post has absolutely nothing to do with Ron Howard's new movie, "The Dilemma".  That's about a guy who sees his best friend's wife doing something naughty and doesn't know whether to snitch or not.  It's supposed to be a comedy, but I've seen the trailer and it looked pretty serious to me.  For those of you who are too young to remember, Ron Howard (then known as Ronnie) played Opie Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show" (1960-1968), and then Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days" (1974-1984).  He was an adorable little boy.  He's not an adorable adult.  I've been told that I look like him, which I consider an insult.  Not that I have anything against Ron Howard, but I was an adorable little boy who did become an adorable adult.  And I wonder how many people would show up if he threw a seudas hoda'ah!  Harumph!  Anyway, I have a dilemma, and it has nothing to do with my best friend's wife.  In fact I don't even have a best friend, and if I did, he undoubtedly would not have a wife.  My dilemma is about mold.  I have mold on the ceiling in my bathroom, above the tub.  There was a little when I moved in in October, but it has gotten progressively worse.  As you surely know, mold is a health hazard even for healthy people.  For someone whose lungs wheeze like a broken accordion, mold can be quite dangerous.  So I went to and looked for mold removal products.  The one that was supposedly the most effective was called "Mold Armor".  Just about all the customer reviews gave it glowing reports, but virtually all of them also commented on its toxicity.  Its smell and fumes are overpowering, they said.  It burns your eyes, they said.  So I figured I'd buy it, use it, and then get out of Dodge.  Well, it got rid of about 95% of the mold with one application...the stuff is amazing.  I don't have a window in my bathroom, but I do have a ceiling exhaust fan.  I turned on the fan and left the apartment for a few hours.  When I came back, the fumes were pretty much gone but the smell was still there.  Well, guess what?  It is now two days later and the smell is still there.  So here's the dilemma: what do I do about the 5% of the mold that is still there?  I think the reason It's still there is because I missed the spot, not because it's any tougher than any of the other mold was.  So do I just leave it there so I don't have to deal with the fumes all over again, which I'm sure can't be very good for my lungs, or do I go in and spray again?  Anybody have an opinion?

Icky mold.

Icky mold remover.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hip, Hip Hooray!

 Did you know you can do a word
search on this blog? For instance,
More Hip.
if you put the word "bird" in the search box, all the posts in which I used that word will come up.
Isn't that fascinating? Well, if you put the word "hip" in the box, you'll see that I've already discussed my hip woes on January 16th, my birthday, in the aptly titled post, "Happy Birthday To Me". That's the one where I start kretchzing about various and sundry aches and pains which have suddenly begun to pop up. There were my shoulder and my legs and my elbow and my neck. Well, the one that seems to have stuck is my left hip. That's the same side as the drop foot. Coincidence? I think not. What I think is happening is that I'm over-compensating somehow for my slightly dragging foot and thereby putting more pressure on my hip. Does that make sense? I'm not in excruciating pain, mind you, but it hurts just enough to let me know it's there. So I made an appointment with an orthopedist. I'm happy about that because it's my first doctor who's not an "ologist". I don't trust very many doctors in Brooklyn anymore, so I decided to get a Manhattan doctor. I called Echo, one of the Jewish medical referral organizations, and they gave me the name of a Doctor Harwin. I called and spoke to a very nice lady who lives in Brooklyn named Denise. I asked her if she was related to DeNephew. I'm very clever, you know. They're on Park Avenue between 79th and 80th, about ten blocks south of Dr. DePalo. So I figured maybe the guy is affiliated with Mt. Sinai, too. Uh-uh. Beth Israel. Yikes! Their Brooklyn counterpart tried to kill me, remember? But since this guy came highly recommended, and since this (hopefully) will not entail a hospital admission, I guess I'm probably safe. I know, I know: famous last words. Walking is somewhat overrated anyway, don't you think?

The White Stuff

I don't know how much more of this I can take.  On December 26th, we got 20" of snow.  That was the one where our esteemed mayor had his head up his patoot until like the third day and nary a snow plow was to be found.  We've had five, count 'em, five storms since then.  So last night Chayie and I go to a vort* and when we set out (Chayie was driving; she doesn't trust anyone else behind the wheel) there was a light snowfall, but nothing major.  When we left the place, the precipitation was coming down with a vengance.  I say "precipitation" because I'm not exactly sure what it was.  There was snow and sleet
(I guess; I'm not sure what that is, but it sounds good) and freezing rain. 
It was, in short, a mess. I woke up this morning not expecting more than a small, mushy accumulation.  Riiight.  Ah nechtiger tug**!  We got another foot of the white stuff.  And this being New York, it soon becomes the black stuff.  There is actually a condition known as "Seasonal Affective Disorder", or S.A.D., which is a very convenient acronym.  Basically, it's just a fancy name for the winter blues.  Folks miss the sun's warmth and brightness.  This time of year, the earth's orbit around the sun is in its apogee.  Impressed?  You should be.  If you don't know what it means, look it up.  If you're reading this blog, you obviously have a lot of time on your hands.  Anyway, I think I'm getting S.A.D., too.  it's just very disheartening when you start the day bright-eyed and bushy tailed, with a list of things you want to accomplish, and then you go outside and your car looks like Mt. Washington.  That's bad enough if you're a regular 60 year old.  It's worse if you're a pulmonarily challenged 60 year old (it was either "pulmonarily" or "respiratorily", which I think sounds worse, and considering that I made them both up, I figured I should go with the one that sounds better).  I got short of breath just kicking down the snow that was blocking my outside door.  So I'm starting to get depressed.  My apartment is small and therefore precludes me from entertaining myself with many of my favorite pastimes, like bowling.  So I'm limited to writing this gibberish, going to Amazon and wasting money, watching Judge Judy or, my old standby of course, going through Shas ba'al peh***.  So in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, at around 4:00 I put on my Timberlands and ventured out.  First I went to the bodega around the corner and bought the Post and the News, then I walked to Sunflower Cafe on Kings Highway.  That's one short block and two long ones.  If I walk slowly, I can actually breathe.  I guess I shouldn't complain; remember when I thought I'd never be able to do everyday, mundane things like walk to the corner?  Seeing as how I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, I had a French Onion soup and a lox-and-cheese panini sandwich and a Diet Coke.  They call it a mozarella-and-salmon panini sandwich, which I guess sounds classier.  Whatever you call it, it was delicious.  The place was pretty much empty, so I just relaxed and read the paper while I ate, almost losing my appetite every time I passed a picture of the rectal orifice who currently occupies the White House.   On my way home, I got a call telling me that a 30-something year old female cousin just got engaged.  That's like 80 in gentile years.  So tell me: they waited 30-some-odd years...couldn't they have waited till New York no longer looked like Anchorage?  So guess what?  The vort is tonight.  Chayie's picking me up yet again and we're gonna go.  I suppose I'll have to wait till tomorrow to stick my head in the oven.

* Vort = sort of like an engagement party.
** Ah nechtiger tug = There's really no translation for this yiddish idiomatic expression.  It most closely resembles the Beatles' "Hard day's night", but it really means, "in your dreams"!
*** Shas ba'al peh = The entire Talmud by heart.             

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Write Stuff

So I'm reading the HaModia magazine at Chayie's kitchen table at 2:00 in the Morning on Shabbos and I come across this article.  First let's address why I was there at that time reading.  I've developed this habit of getting up in the wee, small hours of the morning (thank you, Frank Sinatra) when I'm at the Fisch residence for Shabbos and reading and rummaging.  The reading is usually focused on the "Noted and Quoted" section of the Yated Ne'eman or the equivalent section in the HaModia, the name of which escapes me.  These are rather entertaining features wherein the respective newspapers quote various politicians or pundits or comedians.  The quotes are usually quite amusing, and since Orthodox Jewish newspapers tend to lean to the right, there's usually a lot of negative stuff about Obama, our Moron-in-Chief.  Also stuff about the Rubashkin case, which is usually interesting.  The rummaging is for food.  Chayie's kitchen is a wonderland.  One of my favorite foods in the world is Stella D'oro Swiss Fudge Cookies.  To die for.  How I eat them depends on what time it is: if it's early I eat them with tea, because I like to dunk 'em and I can't use milk because I'm still fleishig*.  If it's later, like 2:00, I use milk, because it's obvioulsy better to dunk in milk than in tea.  But there are always other delicasies lying around, like rugelach, twizzlers, sour balls and ice cream.  I have to be careful with the ice cream, though; Dave tends to get very posessive about it.  So anyway, there was this article in the HaModia magazine.  The feature title was "Holding on tight: Straphangers."  No, it wasn't about the subway.  Apparently it is going to be a permanent feature in the magazine, which, according to their accompanying blurb, "[will open] a window to the hearts of ordinary people whose lives were suddenly catapulted into extraordinary challenges of health and survival."  Ummm...hello?  Is there anyone better qualified to submit an article than Yours Truly?  Did someone say "Pulitzer"?  Heck, I could have even written a better blurb than they did!  I mean, I know they were trying really hard to sound...what?  Profound?  But come on, now..."whose lives were suddenly catapulted"??  What does that even mean?  So without even asking them if they were looking for freelance pieces, I wrote one.  It's four pages long, using a 12 pt. font.  I don't know if that's too long or not.  It pretty much captures the essence of my recovery without going into the tiniest of details.  For example, I discuss Oscar but I leave out all the other birds.  I mention setbacks, but I don't go into the gory details of each and every one.  Honestly, I think it's pretty good.  The first time I submitted an article to them, they published it.  That was way back before I got sick.  They ran an ad soliciting articles from people who had lost their jobs and found the experience to have been a blessing in disguise.  The feature ran under the title, "Dark Clouds, Silver Linings".  I wrote that after I lost my job, I started performing at nursing homes, thereby fulfilling the lifelong dream of making my living singing.  Unbeknownst to me, I was about to become gravely ill.  So I guess I owe them a follow-up piece.  I called and they said they absolutely were accepting freelance stuff, so I emailed it to them, along with some juicy pictures.  I'm about 90% sure they'll accept it.  But don't worry; I'll still speak to all you little people.  You might just have to make an appointment.

*fleishig = having eaten meat, one must wait before eating dairy. 
How long varies; there are different traditions, depending on where
one's ancestors originated.  Most Orthodox Jews wait six hours,
some wait three hours, and there are even those who wait one hour.