Friday, October 31, 2008

Duty-free Iron

I went to see the "Krrrakin" this morning at Louis' Bone Emporium. He seems to think that my hip is doing nicely, feeling that he is finally whipping me into shape. As each "snap", "krackle", and "pop" resounded throughout the the "Krrrakin's" cave, I thought about the last fifteen minutes of the "Terminator" that I watched last night. There was a fellow whose bone structure would have given the "Krrrakin" pause. I am assured by the medical profession that my condition does not deposit iron into my bones, nor will it cause my eyes to turn red and glow in the dark. About the time you figure out a possible up-side to a disease, the boys in white take it all away. I have just about finished watching the first season of the "Sarah Conner Chronicles". I am certain that my affliction is not going to make me look like Summer Glau either. More's the pity.

Later on I went to see "Doc Holliday" for my monthly checkup and review of my ferritin count. Before Trillium and I headed off to California, I had a pint ("clank") drawn at the Infusion Center. "Nurse Chappell" was as chipper as ever. I feel like, when I am talking to her, that having the 14-gauge cannon muzzle shoved into my vein is similar to riding on the "teeter-totter" at Paul Ream Park. My guess is that if I were a little more like Arnold's character in last night's movie, our monthly fist-a-cuff's would have more charm about them. "Doc" said that as part of the treatment program that I should continue to do my monthly thing down at the Center. I don't think that I can maintain the witticisms that frequently.

While on vacation in the Pacific, I had the opportunity of partaking of the cuisine offered up by Carnival Cruise Line. It wasn't bad. Dinner time was the best. The servings are based on the European tradition: small, but tasty. I decided on the second night that we ate there, that I would have two of everything. So, I had two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. I took consolation that none of this intake was going to trouble my liver, my pancreas, my brain, or my heart. The officers on board kept insisting that everything was duty-free. "Ah!" I thought, "The perfect vacation. I don't have to fret about anything". All diseases and congenital afflictions remained on shore in Long Beach. When we arrived home five days later I discovered that I had brought back nine more pounds than what I had left with.

I think that I have figured out what happened. It could have been the meals on board ship, but as I said, they were supposed to be duty-free. After a nice breakfast of grits, eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, pastries, milk, fruit, and bagels, I made my way with Trillium to one of the Shoreboats that had been arranged for to take us to Avalon. We walked the crescent from the green pier to the Casino and then back to the place where we were to have our Inside Island Tour. By this time it was about 10:00 and I was feeling a little peckish. We went into a little bistro on the south end of the city and I bought a foot-long roast-beef sandwich. "You have got to be kidding me!" exclaimed Trillium. "I'm on vacation. Besides, its duty-free," I replied. In all honesty, however, I could only get half of it down before the bus was ready to cart us up the mountain, passing the buffalo, and into the airport. It was a bit of a jaunt and by the time we arrived at the former Western Airlines depot for Catalina Island, the first half of the sandwich had been pretty much compacted by the jostling about that had taken place in the bus. While others lolled about in the gift shop, I hammered down the second half of the sandwich.

I was feeling just a little too stuffed at dinner time and Trillium could have been feeling better as well. As a result, we did not join our regular companions at the Destiny Dining Room. We walked about the ship from stem to stern. I think that we enjoyed the fantail the best. Trillium liked looking at the waters of the Pacific being churned up by the ship's engines and the waves that fanned away from the ship into the distance; I liked the fact that the Pizza Shop, the sandwich store, and the ice cream dispenser were about 30 feet away.

The next day, after a moderate breakfast (I left out the grits and added a large omelet) Trillium and I decided to hoof it into Ensenada just to work our joints a little. It was a little too much for us: Trillium had injured her ankle before leaving Orem; I actually had an uncontrollable urge to roll along the sidewalk. About noon we boarded the bus to go out to La Buffadora, south of town. It was interesting. I worked out the rhythm of the spouts by using Mandelbrot's Fractals and as a result got some pretty good pictures. Trillium wanted ice cream, or something like unto it. We ended up with something like Popsicles but made out of whole fruit. I recommended the Lime flavor just because I knew that the little animals that made life unpleasant in Mexico cannot survive the acidic nature of lime juice. They were wonderful. We also bought two carne asada tacos from a little place there. A daring, but wonderful adventure. I watched the girls roll up the masa, flatten them in the tortilla maker, fry them on the grill, and then load the chopped beef and other yummy ingredients into that freshly made tortilla. I assumed that these, too, were duty-free. When we arrived back on board ship, we prepared for dinner. It was two of everything.

The rest of the week went in a similar vein. When we got off the ship in Long Beach, the Customs people asked me if I had anything to declare. I just rolled by them in silence. They seemed to understand. At the airport, since we had not eaten breakfast, I suggested that we have some airport food. Trillium indicated what she wanted. I ended up with a breakfast burrito the size of New Hampshire. This, too, was duty-free since California and New Hampshire have an understanding. When we got back to Salt Lake I found that I had some difficulty getting behind the wheel of the Mustang. By the time we arrived in Orem, my belly-button was chafed raw by the steering wheel.

The following Monday (this last Monday), I went into the University Medical Center to have blood extracted for the ferritin check. The lab technician (who shall remain Nameless), had to fuss around for about 15 minutes trying to find out if it was okay for her to take my blood. I was annoyed. I was not there to sit about waiting for, contemplating even, the sharp, stabbing pain that I was about to receive. I became somewhat agitated, even a little miffed, so much so that when she finally flounced back into the lab and lashed me up, I did not even feel the needle going into my arm. I was waiting for it, I was flinching properly, but all that duty-free iron had dulled my senses.

So now to the bottom line. "Doc Holliday" was accompanied by a pre-med student this morning. The fellow was trying to decide whether he should pursue a career in poking and prodding. I let the "Doc" sing his little song for me, even though both he and I knew that he had sung it too many times already. Again, there was an upside to all of that duty-free iron that had dulled my senses. My ferritin level was at 530, some 61 points below what it had been a month ago. The plebotomies and ferritin checks are to continue for the next six months and in May I will go back in to have my liver, spleen, lungs, heart, and pancreas checked once again for abnormalities. I confessed my diet of the previous week to "Doc". He said "Zaphod, don't get yourself all worked up about this stuff. You are coming along just fine..... although,... you are looking a little puffy".

I have lost four pounds since last Friday. I am not certain how much of that has been duty-free iron. Of all the things that I have been eating of late, it is the most irresponsible.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Lay of the Land and the Sea

This week has been full of adventure. I received a communique from DMBA indicating that the $107.20 charge for my monthly phlebotomy was unacceptable, notwithstanding my extraordinarily detailed analysis of the Utah Regional Medical Center's extraordinarily high overhead for taking my blood and then having to throw it away ("clank"). Medicare Advantage was perfectly willing to pay $72.09, which they coughed up almost immediately (they coughed twice, because UVRMC had dragged their feet a bit after the first phlebotomy in August, and then sent a single bill for August and September). DMBA then suggested that the remaining $35.11 (also twiced)was mine to pay. I was somewhat astonished at the decision. How could this be? Was this my punishment for consuming more than $85.00 in Barq's Root Beer and Lorna Doones? I decided that it was time to call the boys in Salt Lake.

After going through another mind-boggling assortment of answering machine options, I finally made it through to "Gernrnnantily"; apparently DMBA has a similar policy about answering with clearly enunciated given names as does the University of Utah. I finally mustered up my courage and said, "Well, Gernrnnantily, I have a perceived problem with my bill; and may I say that when I suggest that I have a problem with my bill, I mean to say that you are going to have the same problem momentarily after I shrug it off my shoulders on to yours."

"Oh! Isn't that nice!" said the Big G.

I then began my rant about the purpose of the phlebotomies, that they were therapeutic, designed to save DMBA and Medicare the riches of King Midas. Without the phlebotomies, I was looking at a number of debilitating diseases involving my liver, pancreas, heart, and brain, all of which organs were extraordinarily valuable to me. Additionally I was certain that if "Doc Holliday" had to treat any one of the debilitated organs, he and his wife would be spending a great deal of time seeing the rest of the world that they could not afford on the meager hemochromatosis ticket.

"Hmmmm," said G. "Can you hold?"

I responded with my best prostate answer, "If it is not more than an hour or so, I think I can manage." After a few minutes, G came back on line.

"As inconceivable as it may seem, there appears to be a mistake on the way your insurance information was entered into the computer."

"And, how much do I owe? Is there a standard co-pay every time I go to the Infusion Center?"

"I'm not certain," said G. "It could be anything from $.11 to $15.00 depending on which two of digits on your balance the management is willing to deduct from your bill. If they take out the first two, then it will be $.11. If they decide to take out the first and the last digits and reverse the order of the middle two digits and eliminate the decimal point, you would owe $15.00."

"How are these decisions made?" I asked.

"Well, it sort of depends on whether they use a pointy golden needle with a silver syringe attached or if they use a 14-gauge platinum shotgun with diamond pellets on the target that has the "$35.11" written on it. In any event, we will have the results back from the executives in a day or two and we will you know. I am really sorry about all of this. There was just a topographical error." He said goodbye without explaining to me what the topographical error was.

I have made lots of topographical errors in my life, particularly while hiking about in the mountains of California, but I have never been lost nor have I ever been billed $35.11 for taking the wrong trail. I will be waiting with baited breath to find out what really transpires.

In the meantime, I returned to the Infusion Center to have another pint drawn. This was on Wednesday about noon. "Nurse Chappell" was there with bells on ready to put me under the needle once again. She said that she had read my blog, looking for her nurse friend and herself in the various entries. I asked her if she had read every word or if she had merely scanned the verbiage hoping for a lucky hit.

She replied, "You know how I give you that little shot of lanocane just before I put your arm under the drill press?" I nodded in the affirmative. "Well, I don't have any analgesics anywhere near my computer monitor. If you think I am going to make myself comatose reading every word you write without a pain-killer, then you are crazier than you look." (I had forgotten to comb my hair before making my appointment.)

On the way home, Trillium offered to take me to lunch at Carl's Jr. Believe it or not, I said that I would rather not. My experience at Burger King a week or so was still causing me gastronomical nightmares. I said, "But we could stop at Macy's where I could get myself a maple bar."

"Solid iron," Trillium said and we drove home.

The next morning I had an appointment with Louis' Bone Emporium for my weekly adjustment. My internal clock was focused on Friday at 9:00 instead of Thursday morning at 8:15. The receptionist gave me a call at 8:30 asking me where I was. I said, "I am having temporal anomalies in the time-space continuum this morning." She said I could come in as soon as I was able. Louis has been having some difficulty getting my left hip to stay where it is supposed to be. Thursday morning he stretched me out on "The Rack" and began singing "This Nine-pound Hammer", a ditty written in the 1960s about John Henry, the Steel Drivin' Man. I walked out a few minutes later with my hip completely resolved never to topographically stray again.

After I got home, I called up Barnacle Raff, my neighbor, and told him that I was ready to go on our weekly bike ride (weekly planned, but it has taken us two months to take two trips). We rode from the Riverwoods Mall up the Provo Riverwalk all the way to Vivian Park. "You're doing better today, Zaphod. You made it all the way up and back with only one stop." I told him that I have been resolving all of my topographical problems of late and I find that I am in better condition to deal with the change in altitude.

Finally, Trillium and I are leaving topography behind for a week. Monday we fly to Los Angeles (there is no engagement with the topography at 30,000 feet), to board the Carnival Paradise (ensconced in a cabin so close to the waterline as to invite no suggestion of topography), and to spend five days on a perfectly flat Pacific Ocean (there is a reason why it is called the "Pacific Ocean"). During that time I will be able to consume as much Duty-free Iron as I want. The only downside to the trip is the fact that Carnival charges $35.11 if you get lost between Lido Deck and Deck 6B.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Iron Man 2

The 30th Annual Ironman competition was held in Hawaii this past weekend. It featured the traditional Wakiki Rough Water Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Ride, and the Honolulu Marathon. The winner this past Sunday was Craig Alexander. He accomplished the entire circuit in 8 hours, 17 minutes, and 45 seconds.

On Friday, I became involved in my own Ironman competition. The Young Men's President invited me to come along with the Boy Scouts, ostensibly so that I could guide the boys through the Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge. The event started out with a 15 mile ride from Louis' house, through southern Orem, across Provo, to the mouth of Provo Canyon, up the Riverwalk to Vivian Park. From there, the boys and their leaders went up the steep road into the South Fork of Provo Canyon to Big Springs campground. It was a grueling bike ride, with everyone tumbling into the campsite about 8:15 PM (The whole thing had started about 4:30). My peculiar talents and skills were immediate recognized from the very beginning of the trek when I was handed the keys to Louis' Suburban and asked to drive the truck and the trailer up to the camp site.

Lucky Ben, the father of one of the boys, was to accompany me, riding shotgun in the car. As it turned out, since he is 30 years younger than myself, he had the opportunity of wheelbarrowing most of the camping gear from the trailer up the hill where we were to set up our tents (at least seven trips; a couple a hundred yards each). I have to say that I did carry my own gear, including my rather substantial back pack, my tent, and my aluminum cot. I am determined not to be uncomfortable when I am outside the house.

The first part of the South Fork Ironman having been accomplished, I embarked on the second leg: the water portion. I have been camping with these guys before and they all, both young and old, bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "The Cave of a Thousand Bears". I decided that I would sleep the sleep of the innocent by camping as close to the nearby stream as I could. The water was about a foot and a half deep, and about four feet wide. Inasmuch as we were on a fairly steep incline, the water was fast and noisy. For eight or nine hours I heard nothing but that water rushing by. No snoring of any kind disturbed my rest, even though Lucky Ben had set up his tent not three feet from mine.

The next morning, the boys were to begin the final leg of the Ironman: the Big Springs Marathing. At first, Lucky Ben and Iron Rod (another boy's father) were going to lead the charge up the hill, but Iron Rod needed to make an executive type phone call and needed to go back to Vivian Park to get enough bars to do so. Louis looked around the camp, fixed his eyes on me, and said, "Does anyone here know how to get to Big Springs?" He knew perfectly well that I had been there on at least two other occasions. I was nominated to lead the boys up the hill and back down. Thus I participated directly in the last leg of the triathlon.

I came back not much worse for wear, save for the blister on the knuckle of the second toe of my right foot. It was all of that sassy down-hill skipping that did me in. The boys and their leaders decided that they wanted to bike the return trip back to Orem, even though it had been snowing regularly all morning. Louis handed me the keys to the truck and away we all went.

Since I was the first one to get back home and into the shower, I figured that I won the competition. It only took me 21 hours, 4 minutes, and 17 seconds. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Iron Man

Notwithstanding Trillium's opposition, I bought a copy of "Iron Man" at Costco on Wednesday. We watched it last Friday night. Just for the record, as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no connection between the title character and myself, except for the shrapnel pieces driving toward the vital organs, particularly the heart. Instead of a hole in my chest into which Pepper Potts can stuff her little hand, it is in my arm. Whether Nurse Chappell stuffed her little hand into the hole made to extract my blood is beyond my ken, inasmuch as I invariably close my eyes whenever one of those little steel pointy things gets within a two or three meters from me. Alas, I am not a super-hero, a terrible self-realization.