Thursday, September 4, 2014

What to do with my second chance




            Last year I had been cut on, poisoned and fried.  I was in a fairly miserable state physically.  God put wonderful people in my life that strengthened my resolve to fight.  I survived for some reason.  The fundamental questions of life are more pointed when we brush up against our own mortality.  What is my purpose on earth?  Does my life have meaning? 
My personal mission is to increase beauty and happiness, decrease fear and ignorance by exemplary conduct.  Be a pillar in times of crisis.  I seek balance and want to make logic-based morally just decisions.  Wisdom, integrity, and happiness are what I want.
I wrote that back in the 1990s after much soul searching.  I revisit this every so often with the intention of revising it.  Perhaps replacing happiness with joy and adding something about love are the only edits I have contemplated for twenty years.  But really who gives a flip about what feel good bumper sticker you have on your sleeve what really counts are actions.
This goes back to my current quandary.  You ain’t dead.  Should you stay in your current profession and location or pursue something else or somewhere else? 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Acupuncture is working for me




            After three acupuncture treatments I feel okay announcing that it is working for me.  Alternative medicine has a bad reputation mainly because much of it is bad.  But if it is stupid and it works it is not stupid.  Traditional Chinese medicine is not stupid but much of it does not stand up to clinical trials.  My logical mind wants valid experimental data on most things, especially when they are life and death issues.  My faith allows me to explore things that may not be explained by the scientific method.  I believe that we have a soul and it is hard to set up a control group to test that hypothesis. 
            The evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture is not conclusive.  It would be hard to make a control group.  Would you stick fake needles in them?  If the points are indeed effective would stimulation of the point with the fake needle skew the data?  Acupressure therapy seems to be founded on that argument.  Anecdotal evidence supports the undisputed fact that acupuncture works for some people especially in the treatment of chronic pain.  The human brain is a powerful tool and testing against the “placebo effect” is central to all analytical testing. 
            My personal experience may be a tale of the fool who is tricked by hocus-pocus or the fool who is cured by ancient techniques redirecting the chi.  I have had a reduction in the intensity of the peripheral neuropathy.  The process was fairly straightforward.  The therapist reviewed my medical background and determined our goals.  Then I lay down on the treatment table and they began to put needles in me.  I closed my eyes so it would not freak me out.  The needles mainly felt like a mosquito bite.  The advantage of the neuropathy is that it did not penetrate the background pain on a lot of the needles and I did not even notice it.  On some of the needles I could only recognize that they were putting pressure around my neck.  Other needles did not hurt going in but felt “hot” like an electric charge was going through them.  The therapist would jiggle the needle until the feeling went away or on a couple of occasions they removed the needle and reinserted (maybe in a slightly different spot?) the needle.  It is not supposed to hurt.  After about forty or fifty needles they put an infrared lamp on you and let you sit for about thirty minutes.  Soft music with the sounds of the ocean in the background help you relax.  I felt like a burrito in the microwave with the radiation therapy now I feel like the stale chicken entrée under a hot lamp. 
After the first session the pain was less intense.  If the pain were like layers of clothes I shed a few layers.  The therapist advised against exercising after our treatment sessions so prior to the second session I exercised.  I think that was an error.  I took a twenty hour nap afterwards.  The pain again changed in intensity.  My hands and feet have felt like they are on fire and several days afterwards they felt kind of like when you fall on the pavement in cold weather.  That is a big improvement, instead of a ball of pain at the end of my arm; I can differentiate pain in the individual digits.  My lovely wife did not go in during the first session because she did not want to see needles in me.  She did go in and talk to the therapist the second and third sessions resulting in more needles in some more specific points.  I am among the luckiest men in the world; my wife massages me and pays attention.  She was able to provide specific feedback to the therapist on places that are inflexible.
Today is the day after the third session.  The intensity of the neuropathy seems to be another notch lower.  It is difficult to assess the progress because I have made a conscious effort to ignore the pain as much as possible.  The reprogramming of my brain has had some success.  I can function at a reduced capacity from my pre-cancer activity level but significantly better than immediately following treatment.  I was being pushed around in a wheelchair at one point.  Later I was celebrating being able to walk, then being able to walk around the block.  Now I can jog around the neighborhood.  I can even “run” for a few yards at a time.  At one point I could barely lift my arm.  Later I was able to lift a 2 lb. weight.  Now I am able to perform several repetitions with five pound weights. 
Thanks for the prayers and support. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

July fly-by




            The whole month of July flew by.  My wife, daughter, cousin(s) and aunt had birthdays.  Tina moved back in the house.  I studied for and passed the FAA written test for airline transport pilot.  I visited the doctor(s) and still have a clean bill of health.  I am scheduled to start acupuncture next week.  I hope it can lessen the pain.  I am getting stronger and look forward to aerobatics and teaching motorcycle safety.  Thanks for all the support and prayers.  I hope to blog more in August.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Trip to Louisiana


            We went to Louisiana to visit my mom and daughter.  It was an awesome trip!  We flew in my good friend’s airplane.  My wife tends to get airsick and she did not.  I had to bribe her $100 to fly with me the first time.  After just a short time she said she wanted to return to the airport so we did.  She told me “you go ahead fly some more have fun.”  Later that day the other dudes at the Kadena Aero Club said she was puking in the bushes as soon as I taxied off.  It was a few years later that I was able to convince her to fly again.  We took the kids to another island in the Ryukyu island chain.  She did well on the trip to, but lots of food and a day at the beach took its toll and she was airsick even though we tried Dramamine.  Several years later one of my students was singing the praises of the “relief band” say that he was formerly queasy every flight but was rock solid now.  This device applies electric shock your medial nerve utilizing an acupuncture point.  We took off and made it about twenty miles before she was filling up a Wal-Mart bag again.  I wanted to ask her if she was sure it was working but it was making her arm twitch so I could tell she had it on high.  In one of my few moments of discretion I kept my mouth shut, since I imagine she wanted to dump the bag on my head. 
            During my cancer treatment I was able to experience severe nausea.  This gave me empathy.  I used to have sympathy but since I never felt that way I could not really understand how much my wife loves me to get in an airplane when she knows that she will feel sick.  As a kid I used to fill up milk jugs with water and hold them in my arms as I spun around until I was too dizzy to stand up.  This, of course, was before video games.  I think I broke that part of my brain.  One of my best aerobatic buddies loves to loop and roll all day but is only good for about 30 turns of spinning before he wants to puke.  My wife used a Scopolamine patch, Sea Bands, and Adivan to good effect.  It will be wonderful if she can start enjoying flying. 
            The flight was very educational.  I was able to become familiar with the G1000 avionics suite.  This particular avionics package has synthetic vision with a flight path marker.  This is definitely space age technology.  The presentation of information is amazing.  The primary flight display shows you the path to follow as small boxes, you manipulate the controls to put the green dot in the middle of the boxes and you are on course and glide path.  The terrain is displayed along with weather and traffic.  It is simply amazing how easy it makes instrument flight.  The integrated autopilot has robust capabilities that provide the pilot tools to manage workload.  With over fifty mode dependent buttons and knobs it takes some time to learn how to manipulate the avionics.  With a little over thirteen hours round trip flight time I was able to become comfortable with the system.  I look forward to more glass but I still love putting around in a Cub.  The travel was fun but the real joy was seeing family.
            My mom loves me and I was showered with affection.  She fed us delicious home cooked meals.  We also visited my uncle who whooped up some vittles.  My ethnic background includes Mexican, Southern, Slavic, German, Welsh, Irish, Vampire and puppy so we likes to eat.  Food is love and we like it both spicy and sweet.  My lovely daughter has been visiting the family in Louisiana and you could see the positive effects on her entire persona.  I was able to meet my mother’s fiancé and I am very happy to see he is a God fearing gentleman.  They seem very happy.  I was only able to visit for a short time but I got to see my dear cousins, childhood friend and some of my extended family.  It was beautiful but short.  I look forward to talking my wife into flying again.  I have always wanted to share the joy of flight punctuated with amazing destinations and marvelous people with my best friend.  Thank God for all my blessings.  Thank y’all for the prayers and support.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting Stronger




            It has been about eight months since my last treatment.  Praise God I am alive!  Every day is a gift that I try to cherish.  I am working hard to get stronger.  Progress has its fits and starts.  I tend to overexert myself regularly and then have to back off.  Kicking my own butt seems to be a recurring theme.  I have learned to lower my expectations and accept my limitations.  I have stopped chastising myself for laziness.
            Progress can be counted in many ways. When comparing myself to other cancer survivors at the relay for life charity walk I am very blessed.  I do not have noticeable pieces of my body missing; I can walk and talk without assistance.  But I don’t dwell on comparing my performance to others.  It either produces depression because I can not play the piano, dunk basketballs, or juggle very well or arrogance because I can roll my tongue, sing off key very loud and my dog thinks I am the coolest human in the world.  I have a pedometer and my monthly mileage has increased from less than 25 miles a month in October to just over 100 in May.  I can do pushups again; strict form and high repetitions are coming slowly.  I have been able to ride my motorcycle and fly airplanes; wheelies and aerobatics may take awhile. 
            I am grateful for many of the simple pleasures in life.  I can taste food.  I am strong enough to do chores like mowing the lawn.  It is hard to believe how far I have come.  Yesterday was an awesomely cool day. 

I woke up.



            And that’s pretty cool.

            It got a lot better; I had breakfast with my lovely wife.  I took Ben for a walk in the woods after a summer thunderstorm.  That dog teaches me a lot; stop and smell the roses, and the snails, and the trees.  Occasionally urinate on things and kick up dirt.  Love unconditionally, live life like it is your favorite thing.  When you are sleepy, sleep.
Dealing with the pain remains one of the challenges.  I was praying about how I wanted God to take away the pain and I found some Biblical advice.  Paul asked for the thorn in his flesh to be removed and God said “no.”  Later in Romans I see that I am supposed to “rejoice in our suffering.”  Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  The paratrooper translation when he asked God to make the pain go away God said “Nope, suck it up, builds character.”  Thank all of you for your prayers and support.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

First lesson part one

            The first lesson sets the tone for the rest of the training.  We cover a lot of information and it often feels overwhelming.  There is nothing hard about flying; there are however two or three hundred really easy things that will kill you if you don’t get them right.  Understanding that concept establishes a need for solid habits that will serve us well.
            Safety first is a good saying but has some connotations that may not be realistic.  An antiseptic airplane in a plastic bubble that never flies is probably the safest, but that is not what planes are for.  Understanding the risks associated with flying and how to manage them is important.  I do not want to scare people away.  I do want them to understand what the risks are and how to manage them so they can fly more than once.  Just about any fool can fly an airplane…once. 
Roaring around in a thirty year old aluminum tube at 100 miles per hour about a half mile off the ground with an engine designed in the 1930s sounds dangerous but probably is not as scary as sharing the road with all the distracted drivers.
            Risk management is the term for weighing the options and taking calculated chances.  The first step in risk management is to identify the hazards.  Running out of gas would be one of the hazards associated with flying.  Step two is to mitigate the risk, if able.  There are lots of ways we could reduce this risk, we could take off with full tanks, we could figure out how much gas we use per hour and, for example, if we had four hours of fuel only fly for three hours.  The next step is to look at the residual risk and determine if the reward is worth it.  Some hazards don’t happen very often but the consequences are horrible.  We should mitigate those.  In flight collisions do not happen very often but they are usually fatal. 
            This brings up a discussion of visually and verbally clearing prior to turning.  I try hard to build the habit of looking for traffic prior to turning.  The phrase “clear left, turning left” or “clear right, turning right” lets me know that they are trying to look.  Later when we put the view limiting device (hood) on the pilot the conversation goes “clear left?”  Which is a question asking me if there are any obstacles, birds, or traffic in the direction we are planning to turn.  My response should be “clear left” before they initiate the turn and say “turning left.”
            Breaking up complex subjects into component parts makes it easier to analyze and digest.  I think of the four risk elements as the pilot, the aircraft, the operation and the environment.  This graphic from the airplane flying handbook illustrates it well.   
 
There are other appropriate methods to divide up risk management elements.  It is not that I don’t care which method a pilot uses, but that they use a method consistently.  One of the challenges of risk management is that a thousand acronyms, complex charts, questionnaires, and spread sheets make it less likely the operator will utilize the tools and simply see it as a paperwork drill.