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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The "It's not exactly swine, and it's not exactly flu" flu

I had started to feel the effects late Friday evening. I was having a great time at Texas Hold'em at a friends house. I've been playing with the same guys for years and I've changed my style quite a bit recently, so much so that one person grumbled, "last year I would have known he was bluffing, but this year I can't take the chance." It didn't matter, a few hands later I had his chips and he could only wait for the eventual cash game. It wasn't until my pocket aces met a pair of pocket kings that I slowed down. A king on the River ended my night (curses!) Normally I would shoot pool for the rest of the evening, but I suddenly didn't feel myself. I headed home early and went to bed long before I normally would have.

Saturday morning, I woke and felt like someone had taken a pool cue to me (not that I know what the feels like, I'm just imagining). My body ached, my throat hurt, and my chest was full of something disgusting. To top it off I had a 102.5 fever. The wife immediately wanted me to go the the local immediate care, but I'm not that fond of doctors in general, much less the poor slob who got stuck on a Saturday handling the really sick. I told her I would, but I really had no intention of going. 2 hours later when I still couldn't shake the headache that came with it, I grudgingly drove to the clinic.

Most times I've been in immediate care clinics were with my children. And typically, I've found that the children's version tends to be cleaner and all over more fun (hey, they have video games for the kids [which is another great way to spread disease, thus keeping those places rolling in the dough, but that is a topic for another day]). Adult versions tend to be dark office spaces with gloomy people sitting around. They always make me feel worse than I already feel. And they are always over crowded, with too many sick people for the few doctors on duty. Sit back and enjoy your swim in the sick soup, because if you weren't sick before, plan to be now. "Hey doc, I may be fine, but give me a prescription for the last 4 people you saw..."

Imagine my surprise when this clinic was not only bright and cheery. It was empty. With the exception of one young woman who, judging by the expressions on her face, was about to die (not really, but she was in some serious pain). Even with the lack of crowd, it still took them 45 minutes to see me. By then my headache had finally subsided, but the rattle in the chest had become more severe. I explained my symptoms to the nurse: headache, congestion, 102 fever, body aches, weakness, etc. "Let's test you for strep," she said. First, let me clue you in on something, there is a "just short of epidemic" occurance of the Swine Flu locally. Three kids on my block have already had it, a couple of colleagues have had it (one still has it). It's all you hear on the news each night. You would think with that much exposure, her first instinct would be to test for that, just to alleviate the patients already preconceived notions, right?

Have you ever had the strep test? They take a cotton swab on a stick and shove it down your throat until you gag up any germs that may reside there. I almost bit the stick in two with my automatic reaction. That was extremely unpleasant. 30 minutes later - No Strep. "Let's test for the flu." Really? Are you sure?

I thought the first test was unpleasant. Holy crap! For the flu, they stick a smaller version of the swab on a stick up your nose and swirl it around. You can't gag with that! Remember that scene in Total Recal where Arnold pulls out the tracking device from his nose? Imagine how that would feel. Trust me, it feels just like you think it does. Another 30 minutes of waiting and then I finally get to see the doctor. In walks a short, obviously pregnant, and obviously paranoid about it, doctor. She was wearing a mask to keep people like me from harming her future progeny, but she at least drew a cute cat face on it, complete with whiskers. Why is it that when you go to these clinics, you have to tell everyone exactly the same thing. The doctor asked, "so what brings you here today?" My first instinct was to reply, "well, I told the receptionist I had the clap, and I told the nurse that I have Lou Gerigh's disease, but for you I've currently got Baron Munchausen's Syndrome." Don't they compare notes at all? Why is it that I have to repeat the same damn thing over and over again. I had already been at the clinic for 1:30 minutes, 30 of that just relating the same story over. But I didn't, because I'm really a nice guy. Really!

"Well, you don't have strep, and we don't see any signs of that nasty flu. You've picked up some virus and there isn't anything we can do for you except to let it run its course." Great! A wasted morning. At least the wife was relieved that I wasn't about to start the mother of all plagues.

It may have not been the flu, but it kicked my ass worse than any flu ever has. I slept off and on all day Saturday while drinking plenty of fluids. Saturday night, I ended up with a chill that rocked my body so bad that I was violently shaking to the point that even going to the bathroom was impossible (and yes the wife made me clean up the next day). Sunday and Monday came and went with me sleeping an average of 18 hours a day. Today I feel fine and I've got that after party sexy voice going on (at least it sounds that way in my head). This was so bad that I've got to give it a name. From henceforth, this no name virus is called the Run Amok Virus (because that is what it did to me). Aptly named! Regardless, I'm back and feeling only a little under the weather for all my trials.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Your Ass or Your Life

It was January 2008 and I was sitting in my doctor's office.  He was looking at my test results and he didn't look happy.  "Ok, your fizywangle is a little high and your good jomba juice is too low.  Additionally, your flux capacitor is a little jiggly and it may be a sign of corrosive degenerative decompression."  I blinked.  "What the hell does that mean...  In English, please."

"It means, that you've got hight cholesterol and that you are on the brink of having diabetes."

I was floored.  At that point, that statement meant to me that my life as I knew it was over.  I'd spend the rest of my life taking drugs, getting shots, becoming more and more decrepit by the day.  I was dying.  My children were too young to lose their father.  Oh, my poor bride, what will she do without me.  I was on the brink of completely loosing it when I asked, "Is there anything I can do to stop it?"

"Lose weight and exercise." He scowled from saying that same statement to too many of his patients.  "But in the meantime, I want you to start taking some medicine."  And he gave me a prescription for several drugs.  I took his slip of paper and it burned my fingers.  I could almost see the demon there, inviting me to "go on and take the first one, it's free and you won't have to diet and exercise."  As I walked out of his office, I understood my Dr's skepticism as the majority of the patients in the waiting room were overweight middle aged men.  I crumpled that evil piece of paper and threw it into the outside smoking bin.

"NO".  I vowed.  I would not become just another statistic.  I would not become a slave to Lipitor or Vytorin.  I would NOT take the easy way out.

It wouldn't be easy.  True the last few years had been rough on me.  About 2 years prior, the company I worked for purchased another company in New York.  I was key to getting the offices integrated and I literally was on the road 3 out of 5 days each and every week.  When traveling, it is extremely hard to get into any sort of routine and I failed to exercise properly during that time.  Also, when on the road, eating healthy is next to impossible.  Also, being away from my family so often increased my stress and while on the road I often imbibed more than I really should.  All of these were simply excuses and I knew that at that moment.  Regardless, all of that was a primary factor in what led to my then current state.  I was 243 pounds, a solid 58 pounds overweight (at least according to the BMI calculators) and I was badly out of shape.

Who was I kidding.  This was an impossible task.  Sixty pounds?  My ass or my life.  Make my choice.

My Doctor wanted me to return in 6 months so that he could evaluate my progress with the drugs and see if we needed to adjust.  I went back as expected and did the standard drug tests.  Two days later the phone call came from the nurse.  "The doctor wants to increase your cholesterol medicine as it's not making as large of a change as he would expect.  And it looks like the diabetes medicine is working perfect so he'll want to renew that medicine for another 6 months."  I drew a sharp breath and responded, "Hold on a second.  Why does he want to increase my dose and renew the other medicine.  I never took them in the first place."  She paused.  "Then how did you get the results that you did."  When I explained to her that I had indeed followed through with my vow and started loosing weight, she immediately scheduled time for me to see the Dr. the next day.

When I explained what I had done to the doctor, he gave me a look that was both awe and pride.  I guess he doesn't often see people actually refusing the crutch.  At that point I was down 20 pounds and the diabetes threat had gone away.  I was still low on the good cholesterol, but the bad was gone.  He congratulated me on a great first step, but warned that I still needed to drop more weight.

On this past Friday, I looked down on the scale to see "193".  Fifty pounds.  Gone.  My life was mine again.  Honestly, I have to say that I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life.  I exercise daily and watch what I eat.  More importantly to me, I'm playing adult league flag football.  I'm easily the second oldest in the league, yet during our last game I was MVP and came in second for player of the week.  That's twice that has occurred since I've been playing (second season).  My body reminds me that it isn't 18 anymore and it takes me a little longer to recuperate after games.  But the point is that gave up my Ass and I saved my life.  Right now, everything is so different than it was even a year ago.  I enjoy rough housing with my children, I can out pace and outlast them on hikes, and only all three of them together can defeat the "pool monster".  I have more energy than I've had in years (much to the chagrin of my wife) and I'm finding that other things that used to be barriers to my life are no longer the big issues that I face.  My wife is going through a similar transformation now ( and she is both proud of me, and hates me at the same time.  Make no mistake, this transformation wasn't easy, but the results are well worth it.

I've still got 10 pounds to go before I'm completely comfortable.  At least now when I go to the Dr's office, I don't feel dread.  There is nothing stopping anyone from doing this, just a will and some time.  At a later date, I'll document what I did to get here as it certainly wasn't traditional.  Until then, just know that you too have a choice, "Your ass or your life."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vonage missed the mark

I'm a big fan of Vonage and it's voice over IP.  Several years ago, before we moved into our current home, we had to temporarily live in a 2 bedroom apartment while our home was being built (and with 3 kids that was a tough situation).  I was attempting to move my DSL from my old home to the apartment, and then again to the new home 6 months later.  BellSouth was going to charge me 4 separate times for the move.  One was a connection disconnect at the then current home because I was in the middle of their contract (even though I had already had their service for a couple of years).  The second would be for establishing a connection at the apartment.  The third would be for the disconnect at the apartment because we were going to be there less than a year.  And the fourth for establishing a connection at our new home.  In the first and third cases, I was also to pay for the remaining months left on the contract (4 and 6 months respectively).  In other words, BellSouth was going to have their way with me and it was going to be neither gentle nor pleasant.  I'm not a naturally angry man, but I admit I lost it with the poor woman on the phone that day.  At least she was local to the Atlanta area and not an offshore flunky.  Regardless, I vowed (actually screamed) to her that "BellSouth will never be welcome in my home again!"

When we moved into the apartment a week later, I instead brought in Comcast as my cable provider and purchased their ISP service to go with it.  I had always avoided cable modems because of the bad press that the teleco's had put out concerning them.  I have been happy with Comcast since that point (at least as far as cable is concerned).  But I needed a home phone.  I toyed with the idea of going all cellular and only using the phones that my wife and I already had.  Unfortunately, we were on the bottom floor and reception there was poor at best.  I found out about Vonage then and gave them a shot.  At the time the service wasn't the best in the world, but it was cheap and did give us a stable phone.

Nine months later (yes the contractor took longer than stated!), we moved into our new home.  We were the first of two homes actually sold in this neighborhood, and when our new neighbors moved in a week later, the BellSouth guy paid me a "courtesy call" as he saw that I still had not turned on my phone.  I admit I was all smiles when I saw him at our door.  He politely stated, "Hi, I was just setting up your neighbors and noticed that you still bare cable on the side of your house.  Would you like for me to get you set up while I am here?"

"No", I smiled, "Why would I want to do that?"

He clearly was puzzled when I said that and hesitated a moment before responding.  "Everyone needs a home phone and BellSouth is the only provider in this area.  How else are you going to have a phone?" 

I handed him my wireless hand set and turned it on so that he clearly heard the dial tone.  "Who indeed?  Thanks for your time, but I already have a phone service."  And with that I started to close the door.  He stopped me before it had closed completely and asked, "But who?"

"Vonage", I replied and closed the door.  It really wasn't fair to the poor tech, he was just doing his job.  But I sure felt better.  That was over 5 years ago and I still have Vonage to this day.  The service has been spotty in the past, and when they were going through their lawsuit, I did think about bailing on them.  But somehow, they have always managed to get their act straight and get their service better and better.

That's why I'm so disappointed in them now.  Since those slow beginnings 7 years ago, they have managed to create quite a following even with the teleco's doing everythign they can to crush them.  Additionally, others now have VOIP services (my good friends at Comcast have been trying to get me to switch for several years now) and there are many free services out there that compete with them, although not exactly at the same level.  What intrigues me the most about Vonage is the ability to completely wire my house for phones, with only that single internet connection.  It's very convenient and the cost is right.  But our lives are changing rapidily.  We become more wired (or wireless) by the day and communications with friends and family are no longer restricted to phone singularly.  In fact, I likely keep up with everyone via Facebook much more often than by phone or even email.  So with the internet becoming the true future of communications, a future that Vonage already has a vested interest in, why in the hell would they not pursue Skype?

My second favorite communications medium has been up for sale for some time now.  eBay couldn't figure out what to do with it, and the founders obviously wanted it back.  Why wouldn't Vonage seek to complete its internet offering with free peer to peer voice communications to complement their already stellar POTS access?  And with Skype they would have the added benefit of coupling chat and VIDEO with that.  I had my first video conference using Skype recently and I'm completely sold.  What better opportunity for Vonage to start selling phone units that had both voice and video tied directly into POTS (if wanted).  I can easily envision a small device that hooks up to my television that allows for direct video communication with your loved ones.  Why, Vonage, why?  I can only guess that the FCC or some other outdated governmental body may have frowned on that.  Perhaps Vonage is still short of case from all the lawsuits.  I don't know the reason.  I only know that they missed the boat.  Note to the new owners of Skype:  make it cheaper than Vonage, tie it to my phone system (while keeping the internet capability as well), and give me greater video capability and I'm yours.  In that respect, you could say you had me at hello.