Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Meaning of Life

Monday Bonnie and I drove to Minneapolis for my annual checkup at the Transplant Clinic at Hennepin County Medical Center. My appointment on Tuesday was only a couple years overdue. In 1975, when I received a kidney transplant there it was called Hennepin General Hospital, but that's another story.
View from our Minneapolis hotel

You know how when you have an appointment at the dentist or for some medical procedure and this nagging feeling of dread is constantly in the back of your mind. For me it's the dermatologist; when he comes into the exam room he is always carrying this liquid nitrogen gun-like device and I know that every time I go there I'm going to get zapped. The Transplant Clinic though, for reasons I still don't completely understand, is not like that. I always feel safe and comfortable about coming to that clinic; almost like a homecoming.

The Appointment

The appointment started with a bone scan at 7:40 and than a blood draw and physical with the nephrologist (kidney doctor)  starting at 8. Jonna drew my blood sample, then the nurse (Kathleen) did vital signs and asked about one thousand questions while she updated stuff in the computer; they are now using EPIC, (EPIC is the General Motors of medical info. systems). A very informative pharmacist went through my lengthy med list. The nephrologist, Dr. Israni, did the exam, all pretty uneventful. You know sometimes boring is pretty darn good.
They told me I was their longest surviving transplant (with a functioning kidney) being seen at the clinic. I know of at least one HCMC transplant (Darrel L.) further out than me, but he is now getting his follow-up somewhere else.
Tuesday morning blue skies

Restaurants and Coffee Shops

By the time we were done, around 10 AM, I was feeling pretty hungry after a 12 hour fast prior to the blood tests. Years ago in the bowels of the Medical Building there was the Cousin's Restaurant; they had excellent food and service. Collins cafe, now in that space, has become a shabby little hole in the wall with mediocre food and dreadful coffee. After having some food I was feeling the need for a cup of 'real' coffee. We walked through a tunnel to another building where there is a coffee kiosk. A barista (very friendly or maybe just high on caffeine) asked if I had any questions. So I asked her: "what is the meaning of life"; she said "You work until you die." A few yards past the kiosk is a staircase with a rather impressive portrait of Dr. Fred Shapiro. The late Dr Shapiro was the driving force behind a large network of end-stage renal disease programs throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas. But that's another story. Sitting there drinking our coffee we talked about restaurants and such. That brought up one memorable restaurant visit.

Dr Shapiro with early artificial kidney

The Moonface Club

In late October of 1975 there were four of us who had recently received a new kidney at the Hennepin General Hospital. High doses of prednisone will cause temporary changes to one's appearance, among them rounding of the cheeks making your face look like the Man in the Moon and thickening around the waist.
The first transplant was Tom R. He was a high school teacher in St.Paul, his wife Sue a stay at home Mom. Tom had been on dialysis for several years but had been able to continue teaching. The long hours on the machine, the anemia and other complications had been wearing on him. His new kidney came from a sister who wasn't as good a match as the transplant nephrologists liked, at that time. Tom and Sue both admitted to pressuring the transplant program into accepting Tom's sister's donation. Next was Mary Ann K. from Belle Fourche SD, who was only a year or two out of High School. She had an attractive white streak of hair, I think she called it a Mallen Streak. Mary Ann got her kidney from a deceased donor. I was third, and the latest was Amy T., an Asian girl in her late teens or early 20s; her family owned a Chinese restaurant in a northern Minneapolis suburb. Amy's kidney was donated by a brother. Sue told a story of Amy's parents "marching" her brothers into the clinic and lining them up to be tested for compatibility. Over the eight weeks after surgery that I needed to stay in the Twin Cities, we got to know all these people pretty well and frequently met for coffee or lunch. The diet on dialysis is very restricted, no salt, no fruits, only a few vegetables, and most patients had very restricted fluid intake. Just being able to eat a normal diet and drink a glass of beer felt like such a treat; add to that the camaraderie of people in the same situation and fun surroundings, each time was a mini celebration. Sue always knew the best places to go.
Sometime in late November or early December we all got together at a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis for one last time before Mary Ann went home to "Belle". It seemed to me that everyone was feeling happy and blessed to be alive and in a state of health we had not known for many months or years. Although Tom was having some minor rejection issues, that day it was like there were only good things lying ahead for all of us. We talked about getting together again next year and every year. Sue wondered out loud how many of us would still be around with functioning kidneys in five, or ten years. As I remember, the conversation went along the lines of not worrying about that, being grateful for each day and how we would apprecitate five years, but ten or twenty years would be wonderful. I don't think anyone even imagined thirty or more years.


The next summer we talked to Sue and Tom at their home in St. Paul. Tom was still having rejection problems, but was optimistic about the kidney and looking forward to teaching in the fall. The thing about Tom was his personality, a consistent optimist, he was friendly to everyone, outgoing, and always made others know he was interested in them. He loved teaching and from what we heard, his students loved him. Later that year on another follow-up appointment, we arranged to meet Tom and Sue at a new restaurant in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis. When they arrived, Tom was walking with some difficulty with a cane and apparently was having eyesight problems. He looked very puffy and was losing a lot of hair. The corticosteroids being used in the 'heroic' attempts to reverse his rejection were taking a toll on his hip joints as well as causing cataracts. On that day, even though he was no longer able to teach, he still had a positive attitude and was looking forward to his upcoming hip replacement surgery. Not long after that, maybe a year or so, Sue called and said that Tom had passed away from complications after losing the kidney. Although unable to get inside Tom's head, I think I might know how I would have felt during his rejection episodes. I would have had some guilt about pushing for the transplant surgery when the odds were not good and because of that I might have been reluctant to stop the aggressive treatment, even though the odds were against a good outcome.

Mary Ann

Was fun to know and be around. She was such a cheerful girl, maybe a little naive for someone of twenty or so years. Very close to her mom and dad (Nadine and Dave). They had wanted to give her a kidney, but neither was an eligible donor. Dave had medical issues and Nadine was not a match. Mary Ann was maybe a little dependent, I think that happens sometimes when a child has a chronic illness. We kept in touch with Mary Ann and her parents seeing them on trips to the Black Hills. I worked with someone (Linda J.) with whom she had been high school friends; through her family, Linda would give me updates on Mary Ann. On one of our trips to Western South Dakota Mary Ann told us about her engagement. He worked at the Bentonite mine near Belle Fourche. She was excited about the upcoming wedding, wanted us to come and would I be the wedding photographer. I had to find an excuse; there was no way I could fulfill a brides high expectations. Later that night we went with Mary Ann, her fiance, Dave and Nadine to a cowboy bar in Belle Fourche. This cowboy bar was a real cowboy bar with real cowboys (some packing iron), loud cowboy music, a lot of dancing and other cowboy stuff; we all had a great time. 
A couple years later Linda told me that Mary Ann's marriage had failed because "he had some fidelity issues". We fell out of touch for a while and then heard that Mary Ann's hepatitis B had returned. In those days, nearly everyone on dialysis for very long was exposed to Hep B. Some got ill with jaundice or other problems, but most had no symptoms; for some the virus stayed dormant. The latter group were always at risk for severe liver disease if the virus activated. In Mary Ann's case it was liver failure. She died about 11 or 12 years after her transplant.


We saw Amy only once more, but we kind of kept in touch through the Transplant Clinic. In those days before HIPPA, the law that defines patient privacy rights among other things, clinic people were less reluctant to discuss other patients. We happened to be there for a checkup when she was hosting a pre-nuptial dinner at their restaurant. We went to the restaurant, it was open for business, and she was able to sit with and talk for a few minutes. It was easy to see she was going to be a radiant bride. After that we heard she was doing well, had children, had traveled to China, and then later that her kidney function was declining. Apparently her kidney no longer functions; whether she has a new kidney or is still alive, I don't know. 

Survivors Guilt?

Yes, there definitely is some. I can't help it; kind of like surviving the Titanic I suppose, mine being the only surviving kidney from that 'moonface' club. After nearly thirty-seven years the moonface has been replaced by a mass of wrinkles, and somehow the thick waist has reappeared. The beard has turned from red to gray, the hair turned gray and is now almost white.


Vast improvements in immunosuppressant therapy have been made in recent years. More recent transplants have a much greater chance of lasting as long as or longer than mine.

The Best People in the World

 Are organ donors, living (especially my sister Kris) and deceased, and the families of deceased donors. The nurses, nephrologists, surgeons, dialysis technicians, and clinic staff rank right up there too. I should also mention that any phlebotomist who can get blood from my reluctant veins deserves a medal. Having collected blood from thousands in a previous life I can relate; I used to hate people with crappy, thready, rolly little veins, now I are one.
My sister Kris with me at last dialysis in South Dakota

So What Is The Meaning of Life?

 I think the Meaning of Life is just to live it, embracing the sorrow as well as the joy. All are part of this precious life.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Long and Three Shorts

About five months ago daughter Sara left with Jamie (the much heralded grandson) for Germany where she now works for the US Army as an addictions counselor. Son-in-law John joined her in March after completing his commitment with the Army Reserve.
Checking the luggage

Jamie signing his passport

Jamie, Teddy and Joe

L to R: John, Joe, Jamie, Sara

When we left him at the airport carrying the Grandpuppy in a little bag, it became clear that they all were gone from our lives for three years or so. This left Old Wharshername in quite a state, but that's another story.
L to R: Joe, Baxter, and John
Yesterday, Sara messaged us on Facebook asking if we could Skype. Not the first time we had Skyped with her, but it was the first time since they had moved into their house in Hammelburg where they have a broadband internet connection. So for about 30 minutes we were able to see, talk and interact with them. We could see Jamie eating an apple. Grandma: "Is that an apple you're eating?" Jamie: "Hahaha, I'm not eating anything" G: "It sure looks like an apple." J: "Hahaha, I'm not eating an apple." We could hear crunching sounds as his cheeks filled. Etc. until it was time for Jamie to go to bed.
After that delightful half hour Bonnie and I went for a short walk and I started thinking about how it was when I was Jamie's age.
When I was six our only real time connection to the outside world was the telephone. Our phone was on the kitchen wall. It was made of wood, oak I think, about 15 inches tall by 6 to 8 wide by 5 to 6 deep. On the right side was a small crank, The single ear phone hung by a hook on the left. Very similar to this picture.


To make a call you would turn the crank. There was no dial, no little numbers, no buttons. To call someone on the party line, you would turn the crank a number of turn and durations to match their number. Our number was a long and three shorts. When were heard Riiinnnggg, ring, ring, ring, Mom would run to the phone, lift the 'receiver' off the hook, put it to here left ear, then talk into the black cup shaped mouthpiece standing out from the front, saying something like: "Hello......yaaa......pretty good, you?" It if was one of the Grandmas, she might want to talk to Suzy, Nancy, Johnny or Kristy. Then we would drag a chair over and stand on it (me up on my tiptoes) and talk to Grandma. To call someone outside the party line you would have to call Central. Central was a lady who lived at the telephone place. She knew everyone in the town and countryside and everyone knew her. One extra long long would summon her and she would answer "Central." You would tell her who you wanted and she could connect you to anyone in the rest of the world, however if it was someone in another town it would be 'long distance'. 'Long distance' was expensive and always hard to hear, lots of static and faint voices. You didn't call 'long distance' very often and if you did, you didn't talk for very long.

Party Lines and Rubbernecking

Everyone on a party line could hear every ring and by picking up the receiver could also hear every conversation. Listening in on another's conversation was called rubbernecking and meant that you were a rubberneck. Rubbernecks were not exactly admired, but everyone did it. Sometimes it was amazing how fast some news traveled and some people got a little red-faced hearing "Why how did you know that"?
Mark Zuckerberg is said to have invented social networking. I think it was active in 1948 in rural Lincoln County, we didn't call it Facebook, we called it rubbernecking.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hot Cross Buns

I see the twerp has been here driveling about. Sorry about all the run on sentences, misused terminology, (smelt instead of smelled?,  aargghh) etc. Well back to the topic of the day.
Today is the Saturday before Easter also called Black Saturday, Holy Saturday, Sabbatum Sanctum, or Easter Eve; the day that the crucified body of Jesus lay in the tomb. I think it's likely that the apostles probably spent the day after Jesus died rending their garments, putting ashes on their heads and generally wailing and sobbing. This would work well for me since most of my clothes are already torn or about to tear. As for the ashes, I could clean the long neglected fireplace after which I would be sufficiently covered with ashes.
A lot of people are probably shopping for Peeps, Cadburys, and chocolate bunnies or finishing touches for the Easter outfit. But for me, the Saturday before Easter means one thing. Today is the day to buy hot cross buns. Until recently, finding decent hot cross buns has not been an easy task. I found this one at Breadsmith and it's not bad, pretty good actually. Having tried hot cross buns from the supermarket bakeries and each time ending up disappointed, I bought a six pack of the Breadsmith hot cross buns. They will be safe until I eat the last one, since Old Whatshername will not eat raisins or candied fruit or anything that contains them. Stranded on a desert island with only hot cross buns to eat, she would starve.
Back in the days of yore (from the 50s to the 80s or there about) there was a place on Minnesota Avenue in Sioux Falls, The Dixie Bake Shop, where you could get wonderful hard rolls, French baguettes, and the raised glazed donuts for which they were famous. A couple weeks before and up to Easter Saturday, they would have the best hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns are so good that many preachers have abandoned hell-fire and brimstone preaching altogether. Instead they just take that wayward soul, agnostic or atheist down to the church basement and give them a hot cross bun with some weak coffee. Before they leave, everyone of them will have their arms in the air singing "Praise the Lord".
Happy Easter everyone.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Inner Child

Hi everybody,
I am My Inner Child. I am blogging today because My Inner Curmudgeon is in his room sulking about no one reading his blog posts which I think are kind of grumpy so I don't blame you all for not reading them. Most people have lots of better things to do, but anyway first let me tell you a few things about myself.

  • I am young and very, very cute unlike old Mr Grumpiness who is very old and kind of rumpled looking (think opposite of cute).
  • I'm kind of like a puppy: I like everybody and everybody likes me.
  • I love the world and everything in it. It is so beautiful that I just want to sing and dance every time I go outside.
  • I really, really like people who are peppy and perky.
This morning I took the doggy, Capt. Morgan, for a walk because His Grumpiness was sulking in his room and anyway once we got outside it was soooo beautiful out there. There is this big tree in the front yard and it is just covered with white flowers and it is probably one of the prettiest things I have ever seen.
But that's not even the best part, the best part was the smell. All over the yard it smelled like the most fragrant flowers you ever smelt. It was breathtaking and there was flower petals all over the grass and it was just such a wonderful experience. There are other flowering trees too

and some have light pink flowers and some have dark pink flowers.
I think I like the pink ones best, but the white ones are nice too.
I have to go now before Old Grumpyhead catches me on the computer again. I hope you all have a wonderful day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Please Sir, may I have more

This morning I took the dog for a walk and retrieved the newspaper from it's assigned receptacle on the mailbox post. Reading, while the dog sniffed around for the most perfect spot to deposit his gifts, I found some really exciting news right there on the front page of the Argus Leader just above the ad for AMC's Madmen.
Packers can opt to label embattled beef trimmings
BPI backs voluntary move
By Dan Piller and Christopher Doering 
Des Moines Register
Regarding it's ground beef filler ('finely textured lean beef' aka Pink Slime), the article said  BPI will "allow the meatpackers who buy its product to affix a label if they so choose." I was thunderstruck, this is the best news I've heard since Dick Cheney got his new heart. According to a BPI spokeman:
“We believe USDA’s decision to allow companies to voluntarily include information on their label regarding (lean fine textured beef) content will be an important first step in restoring consumer confidence in their ground beef,"
The article cited an increased interest in 'ground beef' containing the 'trimmings':
Tyson Foods Spokesman Gary Mickelson: “But we have recently seen an increased interest in purchasing ground beef containing (lean, finely textured beef) as customers and consumers gain access to more accurate information.”
Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer cited a surge of support for the beef trimmings as a factor in chain’s reversal of an earlier decision to take ground beef with the trimmings off its shelves. Hy-Vee now will offer consumers a choice from separate, identified displays of ground beef.
The article was accompanied by a photo attributed to AP, looking much more wholesome than previous photos (see previous post).
 My curiosity having been piqued, I hopped in the old Chrysler Pacifist and headed over to the nearest Hy Vee store. Arriving at 26th and Sycamore. While I looked for an open space in the congested parking lot one woman holding a fistful of cash left here car running in front of the store and ran for the entrance. I jostled my way into the store and was pushed by the crowd towards the back of the store where I encountered a large group swarming around the meat department. As I arrived they began chanting "We want pink slime, We want pink slime." Then suddenly the mob became silent, parting as a small boy with a bowl and spoon approached the meat counter. Holding up the bowl he said in a weak voice, "Please Sir, may I have more."
When I heard the man say they were sold out, I had to leave that heart breaking scene. I elbowed my way to the Restaurant area where Viva Bianca (the Cheerios server lady) was holding a large tray of bowls: "Okay, who ordered the healthy lean finely textured beef and who had the yummy finely textured lean beef?"

Leaving this chaotic spectacle, I remembered  the news article paradoxically stated in the final paragraph:
"Mark Dopp, senior vice president at the American Meat Institute, noted that companies have been free to do the labeling for 20 years."
Whooda thunkit.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Pink Slime

I was thinking this morning about Pink Slime and wondering what I would do if I was the CEO at BPI. Here is what I came up with: 
"Hey, if they're not buying our 'Dude, it's beef' - 'Finely textured lean beef' scenario, maybe we should just embrace the whole 'Pink Slime' thing."

...some ideas along this line: 
  1. Pink Slime Burgers:  Sam's Club Tastes and Tips food sample system could serve them nationwide at their stores for several weekends. The Tastes and Tips lady would say, "Aren't they delicious? You can find them right down this aisle; look for the pink sign on the freezer door.
  2. Think Pink. Team up with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Pink is pink after all.
  3. Remember the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile? Why not build build a Pink Slimemobile.
  4. Promote other uses for Pink Slime, e.g. Pink Slime Helper, Swedish Pink Slime balls, Pink Slime Stroganoff, Pink Slime Tartare, etc.
  5. Pink Slime get those closed pink slime plants back in production. I can see it now, an initial public offering, complete with dignitaries dressed in pink ringing the opening bell at the stock exchange on Wall Street.
  6. The Pink Slime Party. Heck, if I can get that many governors, newspapers and TV stations behind me, why not just run for president.

    Here We Go

    Share the Pain

    After all these years it has become apparent that my spouse, Old Whatshername, under-appreciates my humor and undervalues my wisdom and insightfulness. Why waste it all on her when I can inflict this wisdom, humor and insight on the rest of the world via this blog. Besides, why should she be the only one to suffer. So, as they say in the Bud Light commercials, here we go.