Title: The Mysterious Midnight Ride. Completion date: circa 1961. Age of the author: ~12. Circumstances of discovery: cleaning office.
Here it is, folks. You’ve been clamoring for the archivists to uncover this work (seriously, a few of you have), and now it’s before you. My first story set to paper, when I was in 6th grade. My co-conspirator in this was my childhood best friend, Mike, now better known as classical music composer R. Michael Daugherty. I say co-conspirator rather than coauthor, because while we devised the story together, we each wrote our own version. I wonder if his has survived. I seem to recall that he wrote in the first person; mine is in third person. That’s about all I remember about it.
Kudos to the LAX Lost and Found department, the L.A. Airport Police who actually do the work to reunite 5-7000 items with their owners every month, and the shipping company that handles mailing the items home. Eridani and Tabula Nova were very well packaged and sent out promptly after I paid the quite reasonable $35 for Priority Mail. Hey, kudos to the USPS, as well!
I can’t prove it’s the squirrels. But the lights in the tree in front of our house mysteriously stopped working last week. I say mysteriously, because they all went out at once. Sure, you say, the power went off, or a fuse blew, or a wire broke. Maybe. But the power is not out. I isolated the first string from the bottom, and it no longer works. But even with it cut out, neither do the rest of the lights. I isolated the second string from the bottom, and it no longer works. But neither do the rest of the lights. Whaat? At that point I got cold and stopped trying. I laid out a little circle of (different) lights on the ground under the tree, just to have something.
I cannot prove this was the work of squirrels. But they have the means, and the motive. (Sharp teeth, and we forcibly evicted their people from the property last year.) Coincidence?
As Kahn said to Kirk, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I think the squirrels have been watching too much Star Trek.
We are in shock and mourning. Our beloved border-collie mix, Captain Jack, has left us. Just two weeks ago, he was joyfully chasing a younger dog round and round at a friend’s house, totally exhausting us just watching. However, three days ago, he abruptly went into a precipitous decline—not eating, having difficulty walking, and even standing. I realized with a start that he had lost weight, which I hadn’t noticed. Despite long sessions in two different animal hospitals, the cause remains uncertain. But probably it was a return of the cancer that almost took him a year ago. Here he is, enjoying a last review of the property during a brief rally toward the end.
Many of you will remember that he had radical cancer surgery on his jaw a year ago, resulting in a new lease on life, though one with his tongue hanging out for lack of a place to park it. He enjoyed that year, and we are deeply grateful to have enjoyed it with him.
The timing was uncanny. He abruptly showed serious symptoms on the very day Allysen and Jayce were flying back from Puerto Rico. I was at the hospital with him the very hours that they were in a plane coming home. We are all devastated, but grateful that the whole family could be here to say goodbye. A lovely vet named Dr. Johnson, who makes euthanasia house calls, came to our home to ease his way. Many thanks to her, and to Jackie and the other dog walkers, and to our regular vet Dr. Parker, and to Jack’s oncologist Dr. Cronin, and many others who helped make his life the amazing life that it was. I have owned (and said goodbye to) many dogs, but never one about whom so many people have come to me to say, “I love this dog; what a great dog; he was the highlight of my day.” We already miss him terribly.
Still with us is Lady McDuff, aka Duff-Duff, aka Septima, aka Nugget, aka Possum. She was Allysen’s mom’s dog and is now ours, and she has found her own way into our hearts. Here she is with Jack in happier times. No doubt she is mourning in her own way.
About four days ago, I was in the basement and heard a chirping beep—just like the sound a smoke alarm makes to alert you to a low battery; you know, the one that makes you scratch your head and say, “Am I hearing things? What was that?” Except in this case the sound was not coming from any of the smoke detectors, at least none that I could find. Eventually I became convinced that it was coming from above the ceiling sheetrock, and further convinced that some contractor had put up sheetrock over a smoke detector. Then I became convinced that it was coming from a big junction box for our ductless mini-split system. Connor was convinced it was coming from another device, but that didn’t sound right to me. It started making increasingly shrill sounds at intervals.
I finally texted Plumber Mike, asking if it could be from the ductless system, and he said, Maybe. He and his assistant came by today to check it out. They searched and searched, going through all the same suspicions I had. But it was not coming from the ductless system, or the other. Finally they found it:
It’s a battery-powered leak detector that used to be attached to one of our old water heaters. At some point it must have gotten kicked off, and someone carelessly put it up on a shelf. A high shelf, well out of sight. Where it sat until its batteries ran low, and its trilling could confound the allegedly wise.
The batteries are out now, and it is in the trash. Sanity, for the moment, is restored.
They came and took away my oxygen concentrator, and also almost a dozen small tanks that were clustered in the other room. In their place, they left a new oxygen concentrator—one that I think puts out a flow closer to the advertised rate—and a Dalek-like machine that sits on top, which refills tanks while I sleep. Now, instead of being limited to the ten smallish tanks that I was allowed per month, I have only two, but I can use them as fast as I can fill them.
This is for going out, of course, especially for dog walks. I’ve learned that my clever Inogen portable concentrator (POC) is fine for going out to the store or whatever, or just knocking about where exertion is low. But when it gets more aerobic, like dog-walking, it just can’t keep up with my needs as well as a small tank in a backpack. I believe this is because the POC gives the O2 in little pulses when I inhale, which is less assistance than a tank on continuous flow. The duration of a tank is shorter, of course, but all I need is 30-40 minutes to walk the dogs, and for that it’s better.
The new machine has a different and no less annoying continuous drone from the old one, and since it’s near where Allysen works all day, I spent that afternoon putting together some sound baffling to try to cut the decibels. That part is still a work in progress.
The last two weeks have been all about oxygen. O2. Breathing stuff. Not that important until you’re not getting enough. Two weeks ago is when the first oxygen supplies arrived. (In case you missed it, the reason for my oxygen is spelled out in Pulmonary Fibrosis and Me.) We now have the constant drone and rhythmic ptoosh of a big oxygen concentrator, which sits centrally located in our apartment and sends supplemental oxygen through a network of green tubes laid out through the house: one to the bedroom, one through the bedroom and up through a hole in the closet ceiling to my office, overhead, and one that I just snake around behind me as I move about. I’m on the O2 most of the time, to keep my blood saturation levels up. I can go off for short periods, but if I’m active, my O2 percentage will drop right into the 80s, percentage-wise, which isn’t great. Most people are pretty stable around 97-98, as I used to be. Also, staying on the O2 seems to reduce my coughing. Here’s the big guy.
Also, I bought a secondhand portable concentrator that I can wear in a backpack when I’m out doing things like walking the dogs.
I never knew walking the dogs was such an aerobic activity! I really have to pace myself. But as promised, I have increased my daily exercising—leg lifts, crunches, etc., before getting out of bed. The highlight is forty squats and forty pushups while the coffee is brewing. That’s something to look forward to every morning! (Not really.) Stopping between sets to breathe really hard and wait for the O2 to come back up, that’s the ticket. Here’s my cool ring oximeter.
Sometimes I get sick of the cannula in my nose and I switch over to Darth Jeff mode. I sound just like the guy in the black suit.
Weird thing about in-home oxygen supplies: It apparently has never occurred to any of these companies that people might need to split their O2 feed into different rooms. They’ll give you the hoses and connectors and cannulas that you need, but when you ask about a splitter valve, they wonder what language you’re speaking. Well, okay, I thought, you can get anything on Amazon, right? Um… After much searching online, I did eventually find a link to a really overpriced two-way plastic valve that works (the gray one on top of the machine). A week later I realized I needed more, and eventually I found the brass gizmo with the yellow knobs. I had to MacGyver a connector between them, because no one seems to make an O2 connector that’s female on both ends. It’s not rocket science, people! Lots of folks are out there looking for the same solutions as I was, but you can’t get it off the shelf. Victory to those who can think outside the box. I feel like I’m controlling a submarine here.
But how am I doing? you ask. Well, some days I feel kind of discouraged. Most days I soldier on. You’re not taking me without a fight, dammit. I’ve got stuff to do!
Time for some sobering talk. A number of months ago, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), which is a scarring and thickening of the tissue around the lungs’ alveoli, cause unknown. The main symptom is shortness of breath, with cough. It occurs mainly in older people, and it only ever gets worse, not better. Some people live with it for a long time; others, not so long. It’s a disease that can kill you, and I’d never even heard of it until I got it. The only “cure” is a lung transplant.
I wasn’t too worried at first, because my shortness of breath was fairly mild, and I seemed to be stable. In the last couple of months, though, my shortness of breath has gotten a little worse, and I am now taking one of the two medications that are available to try to slow the process. They have side effects, of course. I have an excellent pulmonologist, and also an appointment with a clinic at one of the leading Boston hospitals that specializes in IPF and other interstitial lung diseases. This is all to the good, but doesn’t change the fact that I have gone from being pretty dang healthy to having a life-threatening illness. That’ll sober you up…
I am upping my exercise routine to keep my lungs and body in general in the best shape possible. For that to work, I need supplemental oxygen, and that’s supposed to be arriving tomorrow. I will soon be walking the dogs with a little tank slung over my back. Yay. In the meantime, I take breaks between sets of pushups and squats, etc., and pant and wait for the numbers to go back up on my pulse oximeter.
My secret hope for a silver lining is that once I have more O2 flowing in my brain, maybe some of the creative writing blocks that have been troubling me will give way in the face of oxygen. I can hope. Meanwhile, prayers and healing thoughts would be much appreciated. I hope this will be a long story to tell, but only the future knows for sure.
I have always had a gratifyingly warm relationship with my relatives on my mother’s side of the family, the Sherricks. What with the older generation passing and folks scattering to the ends of the U.S.A., I don’t see any of them very often anymore. Fortunately, my cousins periodically organize a reunion, a.k.a. Sherrick Shindig, at some different location, typically not where anyone lives. This year is the first time in ten years I’ve been able to attend, and we are gathered at a lakeside house in Tennessee, which is a state none of us lives in. We’re having a great time. Swimming, boating, relaxing, talking…
That’s after calming down from the last six miles of the drive here (Allysen and I driving the Winnebago mothership). The road in to this location could very well serve as a roller coaster track for Cedar Point. Up, down, twist right, twist left, twist and climb, twist and drop. The mountain roads of Puerto Rico got nothing on this road. But we made it!