Saturday, December 8, 2012

Six Month Update--Back to Basics

moreicinc in moreSix months ago today I had my back operation (a microdiscectomy and laminectomy of L5, if you don't remember). While the initial recovery had its ups and downs, overall I am reasonably pleased with my progress.  I saw my surgeon a few weeks ago and he told me that I should feel free to resume all of my normal activities, so that is in itself a pretty good sign. If I had to rate my satisfaction with the process of getting the surgery, I would say that I was 90% satisfied.

In the main, I am feeling a lot better.  I had been dealing with a herniated disc and related nerve pain for six years.  The pain would flare up and give me a really bad 3-4 months and then it would go away.  During these six years I have made lots of changes in my life, from sitting on a balance ball as much as possible (both at home watching TV and and my desk at work), to walking much more (3-4 miles per day 4-5 days per week).  I also spend a considerable amount of time off the ball doing "core" strengthening exercises.

In late October of 2011 I hurt my back again, and the pain was so bad, and required so much medication to get through my day, that I opted for the surgery.  I was also totally numb from hip to toe on my right leg.  Well, since the operation, the pain is almost totally gone, and the numbness has improved a lot.  For reasons unknown to me I had a terrible episode from mid-August to mid-September, where the nerve pain returned and combined with terrible spasming of my piriformis muscle.  I had to resume the full complement of medication just to get through the day (which was depressing) but thanks to exercising and patience it went away eventually.

At this point, though, I am doing fine.  Some days the numbness returns to pre-operative levels, but it is getting better all the time (though the doctor told me that it could take another year until my nerves are fully regenerated).  One thing I have noticed is that most days I have an incredible amount of stiffness and pain in bed and upon waking.  Stretching helps, but most days I take two Naproxen in the morning and two Tylenol later in the day to get relief, and some days I still need to take a Percocet (though this is increasingly rare, thank God).Fortunately the stiffness usually disappears within an hour or two of getting up, but I am thinking of visiting my chiropractor again to see if he has some suggested stretches to help with this issue.

So right now, the challenge is to decide just how far I want to take my doctor's permission to "resume normal activities".  For instance, I went to see a movie a couple of weeks ago (Lincoln--I highly recommend it) and after two and half hours in a reclining movie theatre seat I had two days of really bad back spasms.  So the next time I went to a movie I stood--no pain, but not a recipe for date night with the wife!  I have avoided lengthy car rides, though I've begun increasing my time on the road.  I am somewhat dreading the first heavy snowfall of the winter, and am more than a bit nervous about how I will do swinging a bat during the upcoming softball season (I coach a high school team).  When I mentioned my concerns about swinging a bat to the doctor, he said that he would never recommend that activity, but I should try it, and if I get hurt again he'd be happy to operate again.  I guess that passes for humor in the medical profession...

Well, unless something unexpectedly bad happens this will probably be the last post in this series.  I hope that other sciatic pain sufferers have had the chance to read these jottings, and that they have been helpful.  Feel free to leave comments if you wish, and good luck!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Notes on Dr. Strangelove

On Thursday, October 4, 2012 I was the guest speaker at the kickoff to a film discussion series hosted by Penn State Wilkes-Barre at Movies 14 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  The overall theme of the series is movies that have to do with the end of the world.  The first film chosen was Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And  Love The Bomb.  Since the film deals with the "Doomsday" scenario of World War III and (spoiler alert!) ends with a global nuclear holocaust, it is a fitting kick-off to the series. 

My role was to share some thoughtful remarks about the movie and ask questions aimed at stimulating discussion among the 50 or so people in attendance.  The audience was made up of students from the local Penn State campus, a local parochial school, and interested members of the community.  What follows is my introductory remarks, followed by some of the questions I asked.


I have watched Dr. Strangelove at least 20 times.  Growing up in the Philadelphia area, it was often shown on the now-defunct Channel 48. I have also taught the movie to my history classes at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School in Kingston, Pennsylvania.  This film resonates with me on many levels, including:

  •  the setting of the U.S. Air Force of the 1960's and the tensions of the Cold War
  • the comedic stylings of Peter Sellers (who plays the roles of Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (RAF), President Merkin Muffley and  nuclear scientist Dr. Strangelove), George C. Scott, who plays the quintessential All-American boy grown up to be a Cold Warrior, General Buck Turgidson, and Slim Pickens, as rustic B-52 pilot Major "King" Kong
  • the many lines of the script that I cannot get out of my head.  I think about this movie all the time, and I am glad to be able to talk about it with you tonight.

When the movie premiered in 1964 (it's original debut at Christmas 1963 was delayed after the murder of President Kennedy) my father was an Airman First Class stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in England.  As a child I always enjoyed playing with his old uniform, and seeing people on screen wearing those exact clothes was quite interesting; it made me empathize with the Air Force personnel in the film who die defending Burpleson Air Force Base from the Army.  

The Air Force personnel shown in the movie are either boringly competent functionaries (like the crew of the B-52), paranoid crazies, or both.  Scott's characterization of Turgidson is a tour-de-force.  Famous critic Roger Ebert has praised the performance as "the funniest thing in the movie, better even than the inspired triple performance by Peter Sellers or the nutjob general played by Sterling Hayden." Ebert notes that he was especially impressed by the "tics and twitches, the grimaces and eybrow archings, the sardonic smiles and gum chewing..."  that help us understand the kind of man Gen. Turgidson is.  From the first moment we see him, in the midst of an evening tryst with his secretary (played by Tracy Reed, whose Playboy centerfold was being ogled by Major Kong during his  first appearance on screen) it is obvious that he is all id, and that his lack of impulse control is a foreshadowing of his lack of control over the Air Force.  

It is somewhat interesting that each of the Air Force officers featured in the movie are preoccupied with sex.  From the aptly named "Buck Turgidson", to girlie-mag loving Maj. Kong who notes that with " issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas ..." to the sexually impotent General Jack D. Ripper, who blames his failure to perform in bed to a "post-war Commie conspiracy" to weaken Americans' "essence" through fluoridation of the water supply.  The movie seems intent on pointing out the psycho-sexual import of the Air Force, especially considering the opening credits, which is about as explicit a sex scene as you could get in 1964: 

Mid-20th century technology plays a vital role in the movie, advancing the storyline inexorably until the world faces nuclear annihilation via computer (with, perhaps, a potential survival plan that also relies on computers to choose "survivors" based on, among other factors, "sexual fertility").  But technologies like radar, jet aircraft, and the "Big Board" in the War Room are also important.  Watching the movie again recently surprised me that so many key moments of the movie involve a character talking into the phone!  Mandrake's lack of a dime to call Washington and call back the bombers is funny as well as an historical anachronism that many young people (who carry phones in their pockets) might not appreciate.  My favorite is when the effete President Merkin Muffley (a "merkin" is a wig for the pubic region that actors wear during nude scenes) has to brief the drunk, womanizing Soviet Premier Kissoff.  This scene is  a clear take off on the then-current comic routines of Bob Newhart, whose stand-up comedy consisted of listening to one side of a phone call.

Speaking of anachronisms, to young people watching the movie today, it may be hard to relate to the oppressive air of doom that hung over the world during the Cold War.  In his inaugural address, President Kennedy referred to the "uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war".  Everyone was certain that a nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was inevitable and that the deterrence which was based on the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction would ultimately fail.  Of course in the movie, it doesn't so much fail, as get carried out to it's most logical conclusion.  During the 1960's,  soldiers like my father were issued these "pocket computers" that would calculate the  yield and destructive force of a nuclear attack--they were also given out as part of the presskit for Dr. Strangelove. Young people were taught to take shelter under schooldesks or in doorways when a surprise attack occurred. And during the 1960 election, voters were warned of a growing "missile gap", where the Soviets were building significantly more nuclear missiles than the U.S. (in actuality, the American arsenal outnumbered the Soviets' by 17 to 1).  1960's era worries about "gaps" (like the missile gap, the generation gap and later the credibility gap) definitely informed the black humor of the final scene, when a desperate Gen. Turgidson berates President Muffley over a putative "mineshaft gap" 100 years in the future.

I have incorporated many lines of dialogue from this movie into my daily life.  Some are merely references, such as when I speak the word "computer" in a Dr. Strangelove accent.  Or, referencing the scene where Gen. Ripper is shooting an M-60 at the Army assault team and he asks his British attache to give him ammunition;  when I am very hungry I will appropriate the line "Feed me, Mandrake".  Then there are the quotes, such as when I got out of bed after my recent back surgery, and said "Mein Fuhrer!  I can walk!"  Similarly, I cannot drive in the direction of the Northeast Extension past Geisinger Hospital without hearing Slim Pickens' vow to "get them [bomb bay] doors open if it harelips everyone on Bear Creek".   By all accounts, the screenplay (which is credited to Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George (who wrote the book upon which the movie is based) was augmented quite a bit by ad-libs from the actors.  Regardless of who is responsible for what, it is a very well written film.


  •  My first question to you tonight is: did you find the movie funny?  If so, what parts, and why?  Or if not, why not?
 "I found myself at the edge of tears as I watched a series of nuclear explosions fill the screen, and heard a sweet female voice singing 'We'll meet again/ don't know where, don't know when/ but I know we'll meet again some sunny day.'...Was I sad that the movie's world was ending?  Was I having an attack of hysterics brought on by the film's repeated and stunning outrages?  Or had I suddenly arrived after prolonged laughter at a glimpse of some awful truth?"  
What do you think of the ending of the movie?  Is it sad?  Is it a "good" ending, or do you find it anti-climactic?
  • Next question:  reaction to the movie in 1964 was often very critical.  The New York Times printed a letter to the editor saying "Dr. Strangelove is straight propaganda, and dangerous propaganda at that.  It is an anti-American tract unmatched in invective by even our declared enemies."  Another letter added that the film "indulges in the most insidious and highly dangerous form of public opinion tampering concerning a vital sector of our national life...which needs public funds, public understanding and public support to do its job."  Even the official reviewer for the Times worried that the movie was "a bit too contemptuous of our defense establishment for my comfort and taste."  Were these people right or wrong?  Was the movie "anti-American"?  Did it weaken the country's defenses by showing incompetents and buffoons in high places?  Did it show a lack of respect toward the people in charge?  
  • The Washington Post's review made a fascinating remark.  Writing on January 30, 1964, Robert Estabrook noted:
President Kennedy saw Dr. Strangelove shortly before his death, and it would be interesting to know his full reaction.  Perhaps Mr. Kubrick accomplishes his objective in getting people talking.  But it is worth asking what constructive purpose there is in exaggerating a complex problem so as to portray men who have served the free world well as a bunch of irrational simpletons.
What do you think JFK would have thought about this, coming only a year or so after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the disputes that led to the erection of the Berlin Wall?  And is it wrong to poke fun at people in positions of responsibility?

  • There is definitely a lot of exaggeration in the movie, from Dr. Strangelove's mysterious disability, to Mandrake's stiff upper lip.  But according to Kubrick in an article in the Los Angeles Times
"I kept coming up with things and found myself saying I can't do this, people will laugh at it.  But by being shows that the leaders are just human beings subject to the same banalities and absurdities as the rest of us. 
I found it good to nurture this to achieve what I call nightmare comedy.  This was the tone that fit the situation--the state of the world.  Very few of the laughs are jokes.  I think people laugh at a sudden sense---perhaps the truth--of what you might call the human equation.  
It's a brink of doom situation and they're confronted with the same elements of everyday life.  You suddenly realize the folly of man..." 
Do you think that Kubrick was serious about making a "realistic" movie?

  • Despite the negative reviews, the film set box office records when it came out, and it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 1964 Academy Awards (Peter Sellers was also nominated for Best Actor). It is also listed in the "Top 100 Films" by   Do you think that the film deserved these nominations?  Is it a "great film"?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

When the crew receives the fatal plan of attack, the traditional battle hymn "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" rings majestically in the background as homage to the misguided soldiers.  This sonorous brass fanfare provides the only background music in the entire film, highlighting the heroic qualities of courage and loyalty that the crew demonstrates...[t]he music absolves these characters...Kubrick presents them not as culprits but as victims of an irony beyond their ability to comprehend.
Pretty deep stuff.  What do you think?  Was the air crew heroic?  Or were they to blame for the destruction they (unwittingly, thanks to the Doomsday device) unleashed?

  • One thing that many observers point out about the movie is the sexual connotations of character's names.  According to our friends at, this includes the following:
Character Name
Sexual Connotation or Reference
Jack D. Rippera notorious English psychopathic killer of prostitutes, or a killer in generalSterling Hayden
Mandrakea medicinal plant root or herb, said to encourage fertility, conception or potency - an aphrodisiacPeter Sellers
Buck Turgidsona "buck" is a male animal or stud; "turgid" means distended or swollen; and his delayed love-making to a real-life Playboy centerfold Tracy Reed - theonly woman in the entire filmGeorge C. Scott
Merkin Muffleymerkin = slang for female pubic area or pudendum; muff = a woman's pubic area or genitalia, or specifically, the pubic hair/fur/wig for the female crotchPeter Sellers
Col. 'Bat' Guanobat excrementKeenan Wynn
Soviet premier Dmitri Kissof"kiss-off", literally means 'start of disaster', or to dump or scornVoice only
Ambassador Desadeskinamed after the Marquis de Sade - an infamous and perverted sexual lover and sadist in the 18th century (sade-ism)Peter Bull
Maj. T.J. "King" Kongsignifying a male beast with a primitive, destructive, obsessive lustSlim Pickens
Dr. Strange-loveperverted lovePeter Sellers
The bombsInscribed with "Dear John" and "Hi There"
Do you think that these names were chosen consciously to make a point, or do you think it was just the writers horsing around?

  • In a review of the film from 1965, Tony Macklin stated that "Dr. Strangelove is a sex allegory: from foreplay to explosion in the mechanized world."  He lists examples ranging from Gen. Ripper's "phallic" cigar and machine gun to the "womb-like" War Room, to the "mechanized" Dr. Strangelove, "whose name captures the essence of the film".  He closes the review by writing:
The film concludes with a panorama of beautiful mushroom clouds destroying the world, as Vera Lynn sweetly sings 'We'll Meet Again'.  Impotence is no more.  Warped sex has been erased.  Civilization can go back to its beginnings.  Dr. Strangelove...ends in an orgiastic purgation.  Kauffmann says 'This film says ...the real Doomsday Machine is men'.  Actually, the real Doomsday Machine is sex.  As King Kong, Buck Turgidson, and Dr. Strangelove himself would chorus, 'What a Way to Go!'  Love that bomb.
Do you agree that the the film is an allegory? If so, why?  If not, why not?

  • The director of photography (cinematographer) for the movie was Gilbert Taylor, who among other films also shot Star Wars, The Omen, and several episodes of The Avengers.  But most intriguing to me is that he also shot the Beatles' first film, A Hard Days' Night, which has several things in common with this movie (shot in England, in black and white, directed by an American, with lots of ad libbed dialogue).  When I learned this connection it instantly clicked.  I encourage you to watch AHDN and see how similar the "look" of the film is--there is definitely a "Gilbert Taylor touch" at work. 
  • Susan Sontag reviewed the movie upon its release and wrote that "intellectuals and adolescents both love it. But the 16-year olds who are lining up to see it understand the film and its real virtues, better than the intellectuals, who vastly overpraise it." Jeremy Boxen, in "Just What The Doctor Ordered: Cold War Purging, Political Dissent and the Right Hand of Dr. Strangelove",  goes on to write:
In the later part of the decade, these 16-year olds would become the university students who dominated the movement of political protest and counter-culture lifestyle that resulted in the large, anti-war demonstrations in New York, Chicago and Washington.  500,000 of these young adults would turn up at the Woodstock concert in 1969, which was as much of a defining event of the late 1960's as the Vietnam protest in Washington, occurring a few months later in the same year and drawing the same number of people. As much as any film can claim to influence a society, 'Dr. Strangelove' helped to fuel a generation of dissent.
Do you think this is true?  Was this film's jaundiced look at authority and America's armed forces  a catalyst for the youth movement of the 1960's?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Tip to the Democrats...

So tonight is the first night of the quadrennial multi-day event known as the Laff-A-Lympics Democratic National Convention.  In typical fashion, the mistakes began well before the convention ever started---by scheduling the convention of the party of labor in a "right to work" state, with the lowest labor union membership in the nation.  Anyway, in the spirit of generosity for which I am known, I would like to offer some suggestions to the Democrats for how they can best carry out a successful convention.

Please understand that this is offered in a spirit of non-partisanship.  I am not a member of, nor do I affiliate with, either the Democratic or the Republican parties (isn't it interesting that the Democratic web domain is .org, and the Republican is .com?) But out of concern for the common weal, I have a simple suggestion.

To have the best possible result from this week's convention, the Democrats should tell the truth.  All the time.  And nothing but the truth.  Now obviously, "truth" is a somewhat subjective thing.  Sometimes, people can have reasonable disagreements about what is true.  But other things are objectively true such as the declining number of business bankruptcies over the last two years, despite the claim by Rep. Ryan that there were over 1 million.  Similarly, it is commonplace to accept the idea that politicians lie all the time. And whether the lie is actively spoken, such as  "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky", or merely a result of giving a speech in front of a misleading "Mission Accomplished" sign, it is still a lie.

And I suspect that the widespread belief that politicians lie is a major reason for the low turnout at elections.  If that is true, it stands to reason that it might help some politicians separate themselves from the herd if they simply told the truth.

And after last week's Republican Convention, that would be even more dramatic.  Talk is widespread that several speakers, particularly Rep. Ryan lied brazenly and shamelessly without any concern for the truth. And certainly several of Gov. Romney's standard stump speech claims (such as the totally false charge that President Obama "apologized for America") would fit into that category.

A way for the Democrats to differentiate themselves would be to tell the truth this week.  Now that might be difficult, and it will probably require people to re-write their speeches.  But it should be done.  Sometimes the truth may not be flattering, such as the Administration's patently illegal and unconstitutional position that the President can authorize the murder of American citizens, or the unemployment numbers.

But it is important that they hew to the truth unconditionally.  Because all it will take is one over-exuberant , not quite factual speech from Vice-President Biden to bring the media back into the false equivalency fallacy that one lie by one party is equal to many lies by another, so it is not important to focus on lies.   While it will take superhuman continence, if the Democrats can just tell the truth for 3 days, they may be able to earn the right to lie to us for the next four years.  Are they up to the challenge?  Time will tell...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Incredibly Stupid Letters to the Editor #1: Dream Team Nightmare

I have been planning this series of occasional blog posts for some time now.  My local newspaper, the Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre, PA often features very silly letters to the editors.  In fact, I had planned that they would provide the source material for the inaugural post in this series until I read something incredibly stupid in the July 30, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated.  

Earlier in the month, SI ran a very interesting article about the 1992 United States Men's Olympic Basketball team, otherwise known as the "Dream Team".  This was this first Olympics when NBA players were allowed to compete, and the Dream Team dominated the Barcelona Olympics.  In this week's issue, SI ran the following incredibly stupid letter to the editor:

What Could've Been
With all the hype over the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, most fans are forgetting that there were two squads, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, that could have given the Dream Team a run for its money had their countries not dissolved just before the Barcelona Games.  The Soviets were the defending gold medalist from the 1988 Games, and Yugoslavia was the '90 FIBA  world champion.  It is a tragedy that colossal matchups among the three basketball superpowers never occurred in '92.
                                                     C. Fred Bergsten, Annandale, VA

If you just read the letter, I am sure that you can spot the stupidity:  essentially Mr. Bergsten is upset that the Iron Curtain fell because it cost him the chance to watch a basketball game.   Hey, any sports fan can relate to a certain degree.  I mean, what baseball fan wouldn't want to have the chance to see Ty Cobb bat against Roger Clemens?  What devotee of the sweet science wouldn't want to see how Joe Louis would handle himself against Mike Tyson?  But of course, this is impossible because time travel doesn't exist.  

On the other hand, Mr. Bergsten is not wishing for the chance to see long dead legends compete against modern stars; instead, he thinks it is a "tragedy" that the USSR couldn't put together a basketball team in 1992.  Most normal people would think it was a "tragedy" that the USSR was a communist, totalitarian state that jailed, persecuted and killed millions of its citizens in its seven decades of existence.  Most normal people would think that the end of the USSR was a victory for freedom and human rights, as well as the end of the Cold War that had forced the world to live under the threat of global thermonuclear war since the 1950's.

But C. Fred Bergsten is not "normal people".  I don't say this because I am trying to score cheap rhetorical points on a benighted basketball fan.  No.  This guy is actually a famous famous man.  In fact, I have given him short shrift above--I should have called him "Dr. Bergsten".

According to our friends at Wikipedia, there is a C. Fred Bergsten who "is an American economist, author, and political adviser. He has served as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury Department and has been director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, formerly the Institute for International Economics, since its founding in 1981. In addition to his academic work he makes his opinions known to the policy making community and engages with the public with television appearances writing for influential periodicals such as Foreign Affairs magazine and by writing books."  That is pretty interesting, but there is no way that THIS C. Fred Bergsten could possibly be the person who wrote our incredibly stupid letter to the editor, right?

So then I used Google to search for "C. Fred Bergsten" and "Annandale".  It seems that there is a Mrs. Virginia Wood Bergsten who lives in Annandale with her husband Dr. C. Fred Bergsten.  That was confirmed in the Wikipedia entry.  And there seems to only be one C. Bergsten in Annandale, who lives in a very nice brick house built in 1964.  According to the Petersen Institute website, Dr. Bergsten "was the most widely quoted think-tank economist in the world during 1997–2005 ".  He is a prolific author as well.  But nowhere does it mention that this man, who "during 1969–71, starting at age 27...coordinated US foreign economic policy in the White House as assistant for international economic affairs to Dr. Henry Kissinger at the National Security Council." was sorry to see the end of the Soviet Union.  

Dr. Bergsten is still in the news, including a nice article in the recent edition of Foreign Policy, in which the  "éminence grise in the world of international political economics" complains that "[t]he problem is that the individuals who are at the top of the foreign-policy hierarchy, both at State and at the National Security Council, tend to be less than sophisticated, shall we say, about economic issues."  But fortunately these unsophisticated, naïve buffoons can turn to Dr. Bergsten.  Because there certainly has never been a more sophisticated analysis of the geopolitics of the Cold War than this:

It is a tragedy that colossal matchups among the three basketball superpowers never occurred in '92.
                                                     C. Fred Bergsten, Annandale, VA


Monday, July 23, 2012

Vacation--Gotta Get Away (NCAA remix)

As I write this (almost 1:00 PM on July 23), the NCAA penalties to Penn State's football program have been blowing up the Twitterverse and the rest of the interwebs.  A Google search turns up over 200,000 hits for "Penn State" and NCAA in just the past 24 hours.  Three of the top trending topics on Twitter are "Penn State", "PSU" and "NCAA".

There is little need to recap the events that led up to this, including the firing of the University's President, Vice-President, Athletic Director and legendary football coach Joe Paterno (who died shortly after from lung cancer) and the precipitating events, which were the decades of repeated cases of sexual abuse committed by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky (recently convicted and facing centuries in prison).   The full details of the penalties are rather striking:  Penn State will lose 20 scholarships over the next four years.  During that time they will be on probation, which means that they cannot play in bowl games (even totally meaningless ones) during that time.  In addition the Big 10 conference (of which PSU was the 11th member) will withhold bowl revenue during the four years (estimated to be about $13 million).   The university is also required to contribute $60 million (estimated to be one year's normal football revenue) to charities dealing with prevention of child sexual abuse (the Big 10 money will go to that cause as well).    It will be a small victory if the scandals at Penn State can help prevent future cases of child abuse and exploitation.

But what is getting the most attention today is the other part of the sanctions:  specifically, every game Penn State won from the time Paterno, et al first ignored Sandusky's actions until Paterno's death will have the outcome retroactively overturned.  Penn State will "vacate" all of their victories between 1998-2011.

While some people are mostly hot and bothered because this means that Paterno will no longer officially be the winningest college football coach (welcome back on top, Eddie Robinson!), I am disturbed by something else:  the idea of revisionist history.

Ever since I read 1984 back in 1983 (I wanted to be prepared), I have been struck by the idea of "doublethink".  Why people ranging from the leadership of totalitarian Communist states to the leadership of an intercollegiate athletic oversight organization can't understand that there is no such thing as a "memory hole" is beyond me.  Because here is the thing:  saying something is true ("We have always been at war with Eastasia"; "Penn State was winless for 15 years") doesn't make it true.

The NCAA seems to use this punishment often.  Whether the sport is basketball, football, or even less popular activities such as volleyball, this penalty has been used to show the ultimate repudiation of a coach's actions (or inactions) in the case of impermissible activities (illegal or otherwise).  And in some cases, it has been used to remove an award, as happened in 2010 to 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.  Bush had violated some NCAA rules and so he was retroactively denied the award he justifiably won for being the outstanding college football player of the year. 

The problem with this is that everyone remembers the truth.  We KNOW that Penn State won those games, just like we know who won the Heisman.  And it is not like the teams that lost to Penn State will suddenly feel vindicated for their bad Saturday afternoons.  Heck, Vince Young (runner up in the 2005 Heisman votes) is well regarded as one of the dumbest football players ever, and even he knows what's what.

As a history teacher, this really concerns me.  I spend a lot of time teaching students to research using old newspapers and magazines.  As time has moved on, I have had to incorporate teaching how to assess other primary sources, such as web pages.  There are countless (as in, the number is too high to count) sources that refer to results of games, records, and other events that the NCAA would now have us believe never happened, or that the result was the opposite.  And there is no Ministry of Truth to expunge our records, and thus our memories.  How will people of the future reconcile the "new" record books with the "real" records of events?

I am not the first person to write about this, of course.  The following are just a few other examples:

"The Theory and Practice of Vacating Games" tries to explain the rationale behind this punishment.  The key quote is "The Division I Manual allows for the result of a game to be changed after the fact."

"If NCAA Violator's Victories Are Vacated, Did They Really Happen?" in which the writer (from the Bradenton, Florida Herald) notes somewhat alarmingly that "The NCAA is on a “vacate” rampage, and it has put a stranglehold on America."  He also raises an interesting point: "You wake up and the wins are vacated. It creates another dilemma; does that mean your bookie gives you 48 hours to make good on what you owe him?"

In "Vacating Wins: An Empty Punishment" the writer notes that in many cases people and institutions ignore the punishment.  Referring to the University of Massachusetts basketball program once led by John Calipari (who takes a lot of vacations) he observes: "Because of [Marcus] Camby’s “dealings” with an agent during his time in Amherst, Mass., the NCAA vacated UMass’ men’s basketball 1996 Final Four appearance. They also asked the school to remove the banner that commemorated the event, but UMass declined. If you go to the Mullins Center today, you will see a banner in honor of the 1996 Final Four run. This banner serves as a constant reminder of the ineffectual nature of the NCAA’s enforcement of its own rules."

The New York Times  weighed in on this topic a year ago in their article "NCAA Penalties Erase Records, Not Memories".  They mention USC's response to the Reggie Bush scandal in a way that sounds like they are looking for a memory hole: "Beyond that, all references at U.S.C. to Bush had to be removed. The university returned its copy of his Heisman Trophy, took down his jersey from display and even changed the wallpaper that featured Bush and other Trojans. “We’re not trying to erase history,” Tessalone said. “We’re trying to notate history. It’s appropriate. And it’s confusing. We had to vacate our appearance in the B.C.S. title game. In essence, we never lost to Texas.”

And then this morning, Forbes opined "On The Absurdity of Vacating Penn State's Wins".   Their author complained that  "The NCAA doesn’t like to treat anyone like an adult. Yes, Joe Paterno turned out to be a really bad person. But he won more games than any college coach in history. That’s a fact.Barry Bonds holds both the all-time and single season home run records in baseball. That’s a fact.We might not like either fact. But we should also be treated as mature and adult enough to be able to discern on our own the difference between sports heroes and villains."
Sigh. It is enough to make me want to take a vacation.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Everything I Needed To Know I Learned From Pro Wrestling (Pt. 3--The Original Pearl Harbor Job)

As you may have seen from my previous posts, I have been a fan of pro wrestling for most of my life.  I have already written about the art and artistry of cage matches, but today I want to write about tag teams.  In wrestling, a "tag team" involves teams of two or more wrestlers, only one of whom can (legally) be in the ring at the same time.  To switch places, the wrestlers must "tag" each other (usually on the hand). In most televised pro wrestling, the "babyface" or good guy team is in the upper left of your screen, while the "heel" or bad guy team is in the lower right.  Often during a tag match something will happen to "distract" the referee;  while his back is turned, the heels work over the face in full view of the fans.  Meanwhile the other babyface is emotionally worked up, waiting for the "hot tag" to come in and "clean house". 

It should be obvious by now that there is lots of specialized jargon in professional wrestling.  This has always been part of what I loved about "sports entertainment".  For instance, when I was a kid we boys would often play a game called "mercy", where we would try to twist the other person's hands until they cried for surcease.  Well, the others called it "mercy", but as a wrestling fan, I always thought of it as "the test of strength".  I have also picked up other catch phrases from wrestling broadcasters.  In my youth, a prominent commentator on wrestling shows was the late, legendary Gorilla Monsoon.  Monsoon, who grew up in the 1940's did not have a "politically correct" bone in his body, and so some of his expressions were tinged with what would nowadays be an unacceptable level of, shall we say, ethnic references.  One of them is when a wrestler (a heel, or a former face becoming bad who was making a "heel turn") would make an unexpected sneak attack on the babyface.  Monsoon called this a "Pearl Harbor Job".

I have written previously about a match that I have never forgotten, which to me was the ORIGINAL "Pearl Harbor Job".  The end of the match is indelibly burned into my brain as the prime example of wrestling treachery.  Well, thanks to the magic of YouTube, I just watched the match again for the first time in 31 years.  It is as I remembered, but there were so many other awesome details, that I thought I would do an in-depth analysis of the match.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The tape begins with Gorilla Monsoon giving an overview of the match.  The announcers of the match appear to be Vince McMahon (the owner of the company, though that was not public knowledge in those days) and Pat Patterson (with the French-Canadian accent). This match is for the Tag Team Championship, pitting the babyface champs Tony Garea and Rick Martel against the heel team of Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito, accompanied by their manager Captain Lou Albano (two years before gaining mainstream appeal thanks to Cyndi Lauper).

The videotape states that the match took place on October 31, 1981 in "Philidelphia" [sic].  In other sources I have seen the date written as October 13th, in Allentown.   But regardless, the show went on air when I was 11 years old, in sixth grade. Mr. Fuji (who is really American) and Mr. Saito are introduced as two "international stars", though Garea and Martel (New Zealander and Canadian) are implied to be American.  Monsoon mentions that the challengers are joined by Captain Lou, seeking to once again manage tag team champs.  Albano is wearing a kimono of sorts, which probably explains Monsoon's anachronistic description ("Captain Louis Albano, who as you will see, has gone completely Oriental").  Prior to the match, Fuji and Saito bless the ring with salt in the manner of Japanese sumo wrestlers.  Mr. Fuji even wrestles barefoot to strengthen the reference to sumo, though he is not nearly heavy enough to look like a sumo wrestler.

The match starts out with Mr. Fuji facing Rick Martel.  They circle each other warily, but Martel, 20 years younger and world champ, has a confident spring in his step.  A leapfrog, followed by an arm drag, followed by a body slam followed by another arm drag has Martel dancing in the ring, while Mr. Fuji tags out to Mr. Saito.  It makes no difference, as Martel immediately drops his opponent with an arm drag followed by an arm bar.  Tony Garea tags in, while the announcers tell us that he and his partner are "fighting champions" who are not reluctant to defend their titles in a "series of matches with Fuji and Saito".   Garea continued to dominate Saito, and after a tag to Fuji, rapidly took down the fresh man, stomping on his shoulder over by the babyface corner.  Martel tags back in and continues to work on Fuji's shoulder.  Fuji throws Martel off the ropes, but Rick counters with a cross body press that gets a count of two for a near fall.  Then right back to the attack on Mr. Fuji's right arm. 

What with that move, and all the arm bars, it would seem that the champions' strategy was to focus on weakening the shoulders of their opponents.  In wrestling, the grapplers try to tell a story and utilize "ring psychology".  In other words, spectators should be able to discern the wrestlers' tactics and see for themselves what is happening (and why) without the benefit of announcers.  And for the TV audience, the announcers should reinforce this with graphic descriptions of the pain and suffering of the combatants.  Something interesting about this video is that there are long stretches where the announcers are silent, but the crowd is constantly cheering, whistling and exclaiming their interest.  Clearly these tag teams managed to "get over" with the audience.

About three minutes into the match, things turn about suddenly when Mr. Saito took Tony Garea into the corner and chopped him hard across the chest, followed by running him over to the heel corner, where he slammed the champ's head into Mr. Fuji's fist.  At this point the heels went to work in classic fashion.  Saito tagged in Fuji, but on his way out distracted the referee, who did not see Fuji chop Garea across the windpipe.  When I was young I would get SO ANGRY about distracted refs in tag team matches.  Which is exactly the point: "marks" should be taken in and made upset by the bad guys breaking the rules. 

Things began to get very bad for Tony Garea.  Mr. Fuji took him down with a vicious chop to the chest followed by a head slam to the turnbuckle.  Mr. Saito came in and got a near fall, but Garea valiantly kicked out.  The champ tried (for the first of many times) to crawl to his corner for a tag, but Mr. Saito stopped him just short of Martel's outstretched hand.  At this point (Act II, if you will), the story of the match changed.  Tony Garea played the role of "the face in peril".  In the middle of most tag matches, the heels gang up on one of the faces and never let him tag out.  Meanwhile, his partner is desperately trying for the "hot tag", where he saves his partner and takes out his (and the fans') frustrations (listen to the oohs and ahs of the audience during the failed tags--it is awesome!).

Garea keeps getting beaten from pillar to post, kicking out of pinning predicaments and constantly failing to  make the tag.  Patterson reminds us that "Tony needs to make the tag soon or it will be big trouble", but the challengers just get stronger and stronger.   Patterson tells us that "Fuji and Saito are very vicious, very sneaky, you never know what they are going to do, you can never turn your back to them", just as Mr. Fuji makes another illegal chop to Garea's throat.

Racial and ethnic stereotypes are a key part of pro wrestling.  Part of the way that wrestlers can carry out their non-verbal communication with an audience of thousands (or millions) is by playing off the preconceived notions stuck in our lizard brains.  The WWE has shown us Iranian heels (the Iron Sheik) in the 1970's and 80's, Russian heels in the Cold War period (Nikolai Volkoff), and even French heels in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  While the US has not been enemies with Japan since the Second World War, that epoch is emblazoned in our brains thanks to movies and TV shows.  And, of course, as Gorilla Monsoon pointed out, nothing was more "vicious" and "sneaky", than the events of the "Day that Will Live In Infamy".

The beating of Tony Garea continues, as we are told that "it looks like Garea is hurt...he seems to be in a daze".  But he refuses to give in.  Patterson muses that "Rick Martel must be frustrated...he cannot come in the ring to save Tony Garea, but once he does...I hope he does..." indicating that the announcers also support the babyfaces.   At this point, as Mr. Saito is blatantly choking Garea (though the ref cannot see it), Rick Martel has had enough, and comes charging in to break the hold.  But he is hoist on his own petard as the referee immediately sends him back to his corner.  And of course, while this is going on, Mr. Fuji and Captain Lou both join in the torture of Tony Garea.

After this is broken up, Saito and Albano leave the ring, leaving Mr. Fuji to continue the attack.  As Vince tells us, "Mr. Fuji should not be in there...he's not the legal man in the ring!"  To explain things for us, Patterson resorts to some cultural blindness: "Well, they both have the same color tights and they almost look alike, a little bit...they are very sneaky, there's no question about it".  Besides the fact that only one man was barefoot (Fuji) and only one had a full beard (Saito), this is pretty far fetched.  But the referee was fooled, and the attack continued.

Meanwhile, Rick Martel was on the ring apron loudly exhorting his partner, and the crowd got into it.  The whole building was chanting "let's go Tony", and it seemed to work.  Garea seemed to derive new energy from the fans, pulling himself to his feet, punching Fuji twice with strong right hands, and finally scooping him up and slamming him to the canvas!   Unfortunately, instead of running for the tag, he pushed his luck by trying for a dropkick.  But the canny Mr. Fuji foiled the move, and he and Mr. Saito continued to punish Tony Garea.   Vince admiringly told us that "you've gotta take your hat off to Tony Garea.  It's like he's going on pure instinct...he's had the bejeezus knocked out of him", but it was clear that Vince thought Garea was a spent force.  Then another double team in the heel corner led a frustrated Martel to rush the ring.  While the official was pushing him away, Captain Lou joined in for another 3 on 1 beatdown of the champ.

But then, a miracle!  Mr. Saito threw Garea into the corner, but Tony avoided his big splash.  Garea crawled to his corner and dove for the hot tag.  The crowd erupted in release of the tension that had been building for over five minutes.  Rick Martel came in like a house afire, clapping and dancing while "cleaning house on Mr. Saito" and slugging Mr. Fuji off the apron for good measure.  Martel gets a dropkick on Mr. Saito, and Tony Garea runs in to save his partner from Mr. Fuji's illegal entry.

Then, while the referee pushes Garea out of the ring, Mr. Fuji (still in the ring) seems to be getting some advice from Captain Lou.  He is still in the ring as Rick Martel runs to the heel corner to go to the top rope and leap onto Mr. Saito.  But as he is mounting the turnbuckle, Mr. Fuji reaches into the waistband of his tights and pulls out a foreign object of some sort.  What could it be?  Martel goes out on the apron and climbs up, while the crowd reaches a fever pitch.  But the treacherous Mr. Fuji has risen to his feet and we see that he has a handful of salt!  Just as Martel dives off the ropes Fuji throws the salt full force into the champion's face.  He lands on Saito, but the challenger rolls him over for a quick three count and there are new tag team champs!  Fuji, Saito and Captain Lou get the belts while Martel writhes in agony on the mat, impotently gripped by his partner.  All the while, Vince and Pat are saying "I can't believe it...Did you see what Mr. Fuji did?...The referee did not see what happened...

 I am not trying to convince you that this is the greatest match of all-time.  But in nine minutes and forty-eight seconds, we were able to see a match that fulfilled nearly all the tropes of an effective tag team matchup while also displaying traditional ethnic stereotypes.  The match is neat to watch for what is different back then (the ring is lower to the ground, the wrestlers' moves are more conservative) and what is surprisingly the same (both Fuji and Garea have tattoos, which was much rarer in 1981).  But for me, it is unbelievably satisfying to realize that this match imprinted itself permanently in my 11 year old mind.  And now you can see it for yourself.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Day 34 Update--Getting Back To Normal

Well, I had my "1-month" checkup today following my microdiscectomy operation.  The surgeon wants to see me for follow-ups at intervals of 1 month, 3 months, six months and 12 months post-surgery.  In addition to checking on me, part of the routine involves filling out forms where I assess my current pain status and describe how the disc problem is affecting my life.  I filled out these forms when I first met with the surgeon five months before the operation, then three weeks before, and then on the day of the operation.  I guess they keep track of these self-assessments for statistical tracking purposes.

Anyway, I am feeling wonderful!  No back pain, no nerve pain down my leg, and I feel like I can do anything!  But to be on the safe side I am going to follow all of the restrictions to the letter.  Here is a list of things that I still can't do:

  • ride the lawnmower (too bumpy)
  • use the weed whacker (too heavy/too twisty)
  • run (too bumpy)
  • swing a baseball bat (too twisty)
  • vacuum (too heavy, too twisty)
  • carry anything over 15 pounds
On the bright side, here are the things that I can resume doing:
  • pushups
  • pullups
  • Total Gym exercises
  • floor based core strengthening 
and most importantly, now that I can lift more than five pounds, I can play my electric guitars again!

When I talked to the surgeon today, he agreed that my hives were caused by an allergy to chlorhexidine, which was used as the antiseptic wash during my operation.  Furthermore, he said that my allergy was a "type 4 reaction", indicating that it was delayed onset (two weeks post-op) and NOT histamine related.  Which suddenly explains why I had no relief despite taking two Benadryls every four hours for two weeks (all I got relief from was ice).  It turns out that these reactions are related to the T-lymphocytes, and antihistamines are not effective.  

I did a little reading on the subject, and found an article that explained this in medical jargon (I've included a quote below).  Anyway, after reading about the serious reactions to chlorhexidine (some have died from anaphylactic shock!) I am definitely going to make sure that every doctor and dentist I see in the future knows that I am allergic to this substance.

There are four mechanisms of hypersensitivity, which are classified according to the components of the immune system involved. Type one, hypersensitivity reactions/anaphylactic reactions: This occurs in individuals who have inherited very high levels of a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When exposed to an antigen, these high levels of antibodies activate mast cells and basophils, which release their granular contents. Physiologically the most important substance released is histamine, which constricts smooth muscle within the bronchioles, activates vasodilation and increases vascular permeability (leading to exudation of fluid and proteins into tissues). Examples of type 1 reactions include allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic asthma and penicillin-induced anaphylaxis.
Type two, hypersensitivity reactions/cytotoxic hypersensitivity: when an antibody reacts with an antigen on a cell surface, that cell is marked for destruction via a number of mechanisms, for example: phagocytosis, or destruction by lytic enzymes. This is the usual procedure in the elimination of bacteria. If antibodies are directed against self-antigens the result is destruction of the body’s own tissues (autoimmune destruction). Conditions of particular concern within this area are blood transfusion reactions and haemolytic disease of the newborn.
Type three, hypersensitivity reactions/immune complex mediated hypersensitivity: Antibody-antigen complexes are usually cleared efficiently from the blood by phagocytosis. If this process fails; the complexes can be deposited within the body’s tissues, where upon an inflammatory response is initiated. The kidneys are often affected because they receive a large proportion of the cardiac output, and filter the blood. Immune complexes block the glomeruli, impairing renal function (glomerulonephritis). Penicillin sensitivity can also lead to a type three reaction; the body’s antibodies bind to penicillin, which is the offending antigen, the symptoms are the result of deposition of immune complexes in the tissues. Examples include, rashes, joint pains and haematuria. Infectious diseases such as malaria and viral hepatitis can lead to a type three hypersensitivity reaction. This form of hypersensitivity has been implicated in causing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) (Taylor and Reide, 1998).
Type four, hypersensitivity reactions/delayed hypersensitivity: unlike the earlier mentioned reactions, type four reactions do not involve antibodies. The reaction is mediated by T-lymphocytes, which overreact to an antigen. When an antigen is detected in the blood it provokes clonal expansion of the T-lymphocyte cells and large numbers of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes are released to terminate the antigen. If the T-lymphocytes are over stimulated and the response becomes inappropriate the aggressive cytotoxic T-lymphocytes will damage normal body cells/tissues. Examples include contact dermatitis, and organ rejection. It is important to note that all of the above hypersensitivity reactions have the potential to induce a state of physiological shock to the individual affected by them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 18 Update: It's the Itchy and Scratchy Show!

For the most part, things have been going very well since my back operation.  I haven't had to take any pain medication beyond some over the counter Aleve and I feel like a brand new person.  Until suddenly on the 15th day after the surgery, I broke out in hives all over my back.  I have been taking two Benadryls every four hours, plus spraying on Lanacane plus smearing on hydrocorisone cream to no effect.  I have also spent a lot of time with ice on my back to cool things down. The itching and the pain is terrible!

I went to see my family doctor today and he speculated that it was related to something that was used on me during the surgery (or, less likely, a reaction to the dissolvable stitches inside me).  He prescribed me 5 days worth of Prednisone, and suggested I take Claritin and (believe it or not) Zantac as well.

Interestingly, I tried to find more information about this on Google, and it seems somewhat common!  The query "hives after surgery" yields 73,000 hits and "post surgical hives" has 1.3 million.  Some people seem to be plagued by this for a long time.  I hope I am an exception!

Meanwhile, at least I don't have to go see THIS doctor:

Itchy And Scratchy Show : Dr House

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

10 Days Update...

10 days post surgery I am feeling pretty good.  The bandage was taken off yesterday, and now all I have are some butterfly bandages which should slough off on their own in the next few days.  Still have to be deliberate with my movements to avoid bending, twisting and lifting, but there is pretty much zero pain.

The only thing that has hurt so far is riding in the car, but fortunately I am on vacation now, so there is not a lot of reason to go anywhere.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Walking Back

So right now it is five days since I had my operation and I am feeling pretty good.  Yesterday I only took the pain medication twice (12 hours apart), and so far today I have not taken any.  I find myself able to sit and lie down in one position for hours on end, where for the last few years I have always been squriming around trying to get comfortable.

Two days ago I walked for 1.1 miles on the treadmill at a slow speed (no faster than 2 MPH).  After I finished that I had some nerve pain for the rest of the day, but nothing yesterday.  Just a few minutes ago I treadmilled for 1.75 miles (no faster than 2.8 MPH) and there is only minor aching so far.  I am hopeful that I will be able to keep adding to my walking, and that soon I will be able to do it multiple times in one day.

But overall, I am SOO much better today than I was a week ago.  Very encouraging!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back in the High Life Again

48 hours after the surgery was completed I am still feeling pretty good!  The midpoint of my back feels very bruised, though  nothing is evident on the skin.  And I have absolutely no nerve pain.  My throat is still sore from intubation, but the more water I drink the better it gets.  I am incredibly optimistic, but I am also quite aware that this could be the result of the medications I have been given.

I was given pretty healthy amounts of some powerful drugs.  To control muscle spasms I was prescribed cyclobenzaprine, and to control pain, Percocet.  They have been doing a good job, but I am more than a little woozy on the medicines.  I find myself sleeping a lot, which is probably a good thing.  "Tired Nature's sweet restorer" is what Shakespeare called it, and I could use some restoration.  But it makes me feel like one of the cats--I am up for a few hours, sleep some, wake up for a few hours, sleep some more, etc.  When I woke up this morning at 10:00 I had no idea what day it was.

The medicine is definitely helping, and I am trying to get active, but I am not rushing anything.  Besides walking around the house a bit, Courtney and I took a stroll around the yard this morning.  It was only about  a tenth of a mile all told, but I was pretty shaky at the end of it.  I will try the walk a couple of more times today, and keep it going in the coming days.  I would like to be up to a mile by the 10 day marker, but if I can't make it that far I won't be too upset.

Anyway, the main takeaway here is that the surgery seems to have been very successful.  So long as I can dot the i's and cross the t's during the recovery, I should come out of this in great shape.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Get Back

Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner, but fortunately, I am surrounded by people who care for me.  I have previously written about my back condition and about my worries about the surgery I had yesterday.  As the time for the operation approached, I was getting more and more nervous.  But some friends invited the Sassy Librarian and me to dinner the night before, which helped take my mind off things.  And the Sassy one did her best to keep me calm. I also had phone calls and messages from friends and family expressing their support, and willingness to help out.  What a wonderful feeling, to know that people care!

I had my operation at Geisinger Wilkes-Barre, which is a very nice hospital. Having many family members who have had serious health problems, I have spent a good bit of time in doctor's offices and hospitals, and this place is one of the nicest I've seen.  And every single person, from the check-in attendants, to the nurses and doctors to the food service staff is cheerful, friendly and eager to help.  I am so glad that such a good hospital is so nearby.  I have heard of people making the 2.5 hour drive to NYC or Philadelphia for operations like this, but I don't think that is necessary at all.

What follows is a detailed recounting of my experiences yesterday.  They may not be applicable to everyone, but I hope that maybe someone else out there in the Internets might have their own worries calmed down by hearing about my operation.  Well, here goes!


Due to discomfort and nerves I only slept for about 2 hours the night before the surgery, so I was in that "tired but wired" state when we got to the hospital at 6am.  At around 6:15am we were taken to the pre-surgery area.  Fortunately, Courtney was able to come back with me, which was a great help.  While I was there I changed into this really cool hi-tech surgical gown, which was designed to keep patients warm; it had pockets for warming pads to be inserted, and a hose plugged into the gown to blow warm air inside.  They also put surgical stockings on my legs to control swelling.  This sounds like a lot of extra precautions for a 20 minute operation, but it was as good idea, as things turned out, because my operation took an hour (as I will explain later).  Then they set me up with an IV in my right hand and I met the anesthesiologist and the nurse anesthetist.  Both were very friendly and helpful and made me feel more assured.  Or at least, that is what I thought.  Courtney was watching the pulse rate machine, which showed my heart rate jump from usual resting 60 BPM to 90 whenever one of the medicos came into talk to me!  But I've always had "white coat syndrome" so this shouldn't be a surprise. Shortly after my surgeon came by to go over last minute details (such as circling the proper location for the incision on my back with his pen) the nurse anesthetist came by to put some Versed in my IV so I could start to relax before the wheeled me back to begin.  I had never had this medicine (which among other things makes you sedated and takes away your memory of what happens next), but Courtney had been given it in the past, and couldn't stop talking about how helpful it was. Well, I remember saying something like "I don't think this stuff is all that great", and then next thing I know it was 4 hours later!

As I mentioned above, the operation took about three times as long as was expected.  When the surgeon drilled into the vertebra to get room to work, he found that things were highly calcified (indicating that I had been injured at least 5 years ago, which fits with my previous experience).  So he had to use miniature hammers, chisels and drills to remove the calcified area.  Once that was done, he carefully lifted the nerve away to remove the herniated disc material. Then he closed me up.  I have no stitches or staples and the incision area is still no more than 2 inches long.  

I woke up in the recovery room at around 11:30 and nurses and the surgeon all came by to update me and check on me. I was still loopy from the drugs but I was awake and not paralyzed, so I felt that things had gone very well.  I had a very sore throat because I had been intubated during the operation, but they gave me some water and ice chips which helped (plus I hadn't drank anything for over 12 hours by then).  There was one issue, however, that was not ideal...

During the operation they had to insert a Foley catheter to collect urine. This had been the ultimate fear in my life and the thing I was most nervous about leading up to the operation.  It was inserted and removed while I was sedated, but there was a terrible burning pain in my private part. Before I was taken to my room, the surgeon told me that I could avoid an overnight stay if before 4pm I could meet the following four goals:
  1. the pain was under control
  2. I could walk
  3. I could eat
  4. I could urinate
Over the next few hours I rested in a very pleasant hospital room with Courtney and her mother.  I drank about five big cups of water and noshed on a soft pretzel.  Swallowing was still hard, but the water helped.  The pain was greatly diminished--before the operation it was around a 4 on a scale of 10.  By 3pm it was a 1 (and that was coming from my front, not my back, if you catch my drift). Finally, at 3:15 I decided to try to urinate.  I stood up with the assistance of one of the nurses and went to the bathroom.  When I tried to "let it rip" I was greeted with the worst pain I have ever felt.  It was easily a 15 on a scale of 10!  But I was successful.  Since then it has gotten better each time, but let's just say that, unlike my phobia of deserts, this was a highly rational fear.

Anyway, the surgeon came by to check on me at 4:15 and cleared me to go home. It still took a couple of hours after that to get the IV out and go over the discharge paperwork, but we left the hospital at 7:10, and I walked out--no wheelchair necessary!  We drove to the local pharmacy to pick up the Percoset and muscle-relaxer prescriptions, and I hobbled around the store for 15 minutes, getting more steady every minute (though I felt totally exhausted).  It was great to get home at 8:00, whereupon I called my mother to give her an update, got ready for bed, and went to sleep.

As I write this it is about 24 hours after I woke up in the recovery room, and the pain is pretty much non-existent.  I am trying to be very deliberate in my movements, and I am super optimistic that this will do the trick!