Sundries

Busy with work and side creative projects, I haven’t had a chance to update this blog in a while. So here is a mishmash of entries from a scatterbrained blogger:

I snapped this photo of University United Methodist Church on my way home from work on Thursday evening. The way the late afternoon light hit the stone façade of the church commanded my attention.

United University Methodist Church in Syracuse, New York. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

As I took the photo, with the cold air nipping my face and the evening traffic rushing along Genesee Street, I thought the image served as a reminder to me to not allow the hardness and difficulties of this world to form an impermeable barrier around my heart—to separate me from other people.

And looking at the tan exterior of the church, the scene hinted—at least to me—that Christian faith rests not with bricks and mortar, but rather upon trusting in God and loving others. And I think that’s a good message for the Lenten season.

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Early in the week, Sunday night into Monday morning, I spent several hours in the Upstate ER due to a stomach virus; I spiked a fever above 103 and my sodium level dropped. Because I have hypopituitarism, I require a stress dose of cortisone when the flu and other short-term health crises strike, since my adrenal glands do not produce sufficient amounts of the hormone. So a nurse put in an IV, they gave me fluids and pushed a high dose of cortisone.

And sitting upright in the bed—since I was feeling nauseous (which was treated with Zofran)—I listened to a 99-year-old man on the other side of the curtain wailing in pain after breaking his hip. He told the nursing staff he lives in Pulaski, is widowed and has three children. He also possessed charm when engaging with the nurses on the floor, telling each of the women who rushed in to assist him, “I love you like a friend.”

And then after someone from the surgical team came to talk to him, he said, “I’m ready to go home to my heavenly father.” The surgeon was trying to find out from the man whether he wanted them to perform CPR if necessary. The older man never answered the question.

Later I heard him praying aloud, saying, “Please help that surgeon’s hands to be where they need to be. Guide his hands Lord.”

A few hours later, I was well enough to be released. And I realized, once again, the importance of gratitude, especially in terms of health. Every time I go to Upstate—whether to have blood drawn, to get an MRI or to be admitted for any reason—I am thankful for the essential functions of my body. I can breathe, see, hear and my brain works. I remain upright, capable of walking, and my fingers can type on this keyboard. It takes about ten minutes in an ER waiting room to make you realize how quickly your health can fail, how easy it seems for your life to be erased. Illness and accidents await us every day.

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And a day later, lying in bed on the night before I would return to work, I felt stressed about the workload I would face. As I let out a few deep breaths, a line came to me that led to a short poem: “It’s only life.” And here is the finished product.

Gaining Perspective

A thought to keep me calm
Amid the pressures of work:

It’s only life.
Why worry about it?
For in the end,
Despite your best effort,
You will die anyway.

I know this poem is trite and mawkish. I am guilty as charged. But the more and more I write—or should I say attempt to write, or better yet, attempt to write something worth of being published—I have come to a conclusion, one that mollifies me when I consider my lack of success in my literary pursuits.

And here it is: sometimes as a writer you do not choose the words, the story or the best means of expression; instead the words choose you as the only instrument capable of delivering them. So while I am not proud of the above poem, I am glad the three-word first sentence popped into my head and spurred me to put something on paper that did not exist before. That bad poem needed my voice to give it birth.

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12/12/84

Today marks a momentous anniversary in my personal history. As I’ve written about before, on this date, thirty-four years ago, surgeons at SUNY Upstate Medical Center (now Upstate University Hospital) in Syracuse, New York, removed a large craniopharyngioma that had enveloped my pituitary gland, leading to stunted growth and delayed puberty in my early teenage years.

Craniopharyngioma example.

The surgery left me with panhypopituitarism, a deficiency of all of the hormones the pituitary gland produces. The tumor returned twice during the intervening years and I would need follow-up surgeries to wipe away the remnants, along with Gamma Knife radiosurgery in 2012 to keep the neoplasm from coming back. So far, so good; my last MRI showed no traces of my benign nemesis.

My objective with this post is not to elicit sympathy by rehashing my medical past. Instead, I want to pause, reflect on the adversity I’ve faced and express gratitude that I’m still here. If you spend any time in a hospital you discover how quickly life can be snatched away. As I type these words, someone is dying and loved ones are mourning that person’s death. My story could have had a darker, alternate ending.

In looking back on my health crisis, I am thankful for the following.

My vision works—despite my need for progressive lenses and reading glasses. In waking up after the surgery, I could see, and this was not a given since craniopharyngiomas can cause visual disturbances because of their location near the optic nerve.

At Disney World in the winter of 1985; the scar from my surgery is visible and my hair has not grown completely back.

My brain function remains intact; the wedge of cauliflower in my head is capable of reasoning, performing calculations and doing what it’s intended to do (the majority of the time). And while my adult intelligence and decision-making ability could be open to interpretation, the surgery did not—as I had feared it would—disrupt my mental capacity or alter my cognitive function. When I woke up in my hospital bed, I knew my name, the date and the president of the United States (Ronald Reagan). And I remain thankful to this day because the me I knew as me had not disappeared after the surgeons cut open my skull.

Boy to Man

Although my youthful appearance lingered into my late twenties (a direct result of the delayed puberty caused by the tumor), I am grateful I finally matured with the assistance of injections of synthetic growth hormone and testosterone, which spurred growth and the development of secondary sex characteristics. I have shed the outer skin of a boy, revealing the man I knew resided underneath.

My wife Pam and son Colin.

My health has diminished with the subsequent diagnoses of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and panhypopituitarism requires constant and vigilant management, e.g. making sure I take the numerous drugs that sustain my life. Even so, today I live a pretty normal existence. The surgery did not provoke a desire to engage in thrill seeking activities. I don’t think you can go full throttle all the time—“living each day as if it’s your last.”

I am content to wake up, blink my eyes and focus on my surroundings, climb out of bed and face each new day with the knowledge of how truly lucky I am.

 

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Medical Magazine Message

Please forgive my terrible alliteration, but I couldn’t think of a more accurate headline.

While getting some blood work done at the Upstate University Hospital patient blood draw lab, I spotted this message written on the back of an issue of Upstate Health magazine (Winter 2018):

Dear Meadow,
I am so Glad
you have a friend
like reily (or reilly). I hope
you have fun tonight.
I Love You!
You deserve to have fun!

The message was dated Saturday, Sept. 22 and was written with a black Sharpie and adorned with two red ink hearts.

I hope Meadow had a fun weekend.

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MRI Results: Negative Equals Positive

The results of the annual MRI of my brain (with and without contrast) came through last night in the form of a radiology report uploaded to Upstate University Hospital’s “MyChart” patient portal.

The news is good, as the findings show “no evidence of recurrent disease.” With a history of three brain surgeries and Gamma Knife radiation behind me, I am thankful that the pesky craniopharyngioma—a benign, slow-growth tumor near the pituitary gland—appears to be hibernating inside my skull.

And in scanning the report, my eyes delighted in the formation of new word patterns that emerged from the medical terminology displayed on the screen.

Here is the outcome of my verbal exercise, a short, aggregated poem:

Study Result

Stable administration.
Protocol utilized.
System enhancement.
Clear evidence.
History of clivus.
Cells identified.
Recurrent lesions.
Unchanged—
Grossly unremarkable brain.

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Woman on the Sidewalk

I’ve been lax with blogging lately, as I’ve been busy with video work and a couple of large-scale, long-term writing projects. But certain incidents in life make me stop and recognize the fragility of our existence, which, in turn, leads to deep rumination. And my ensuing thoughts, once processed, seem suited for this blogging space.

Something happened to me recently that disrupted my daily routine and forced me to pay attention to a person in peril.

While walking home from work Thursday night, heading down South Crouse Avenue between Harrison and Madison streets, I came across an African-American woman in her thirties sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of me, with her iPhone lying next her to body and a plastic Dunkin’ Donuts cup and ice cubes scattered nearby.

Dunkin’ Donuts cup and straw on the sidewalk (not staged or rearranged).

When I first noticed her figure in the distance, I thought it was a dummy or some type of debris, like a cardboard box. But her details sharpened as I approached her. She was dressed in a Dunkin’ Donuts uniform with a name tag that read “Natasha,” and she was positioned on her back, looking up at the darkening sky dotted with crows swooping overhead. Rush hour traffic sped along Harrison Street toward downtown and the onramp to I-81.

While it’s not usual to encounter people asking for money in the area surrounding Syracuse University, something about the woman told me she was not a panhandler or someone faking an illness to get attention. I surmised she had just finished her shift at Dunkin’ Donuts and was walking down the hill to catch a bus or continue on foot the rest of the way home. I bent over her body as I surveyed the scene. The woman’s glazed eyes stared back at me, and she appeared disoriented.

I said, “Mam are you OK? Did you fall? Are you hurt?” She was unable to respond with a complete sentence. “What?” she asked.

“Mam, why are you on the sidewalk?” She continued to hold a frightened expression on her face, but she did not say anything else. I said, “I’m gonna call someone for you.” I started to dial 911 as a man with a mustache and wearing a tan coat and an orange baseball cap walked across South Crouse Avenue toward us. “Are you calling an ambulance?” he asked as I pressed my cellphone to my ear so I could hear the operator above the traffic noise.

A female 911 operator took my call. “Nine-one-one, what’s your location?” she asked.

“South Crouse between Harrison and Madison.”

“OK, what’s going on?”

I relayed the details of my encounter with the woman on the sidewalk.

And the woman asked me a flurry of questions. “Does she appear injured? Is she breathing? Is she conscious? Is she intoxicated? Can you ask her her name and whether she has a medical condition?”

I did my best to get the answers the operator sought. The other man also tried to talk to Natasha. “Mam, what happened? Why are you on the sidewalk?” he asked.

Natasha could not vocalize any responses, and she just looked at us with her dark, glassy eyes. I don’t think she was aware of the situation or knew what had happened to her.

The man said he had to leave to “go to a founders dinner.” He crossed the street and I lost sight of his figure. The 911 operator said the ambulance was on the way, and a short time later, with sirens blaring, it pulled to the curb along Madison Street. Two young EMTs, one male and one female, hopped out of the ambulance and wheeled a gurney up South Crouse Avenue toward the woman.

“What happened?” the man asked. I told him I had found the woman on the sidewalk. “OK,” he said, “we got it.”

And with that, I left. I said a Hail Mary for Natasha, praying the paramedics would get her to the hospital quickly and doctors would determine what was wrong with her.

A passing thought also tickled my brain. I thought it would be nice to work in some capacity where I could help people on a daily basis, as opposed to simply pursuing my own career goals of a higher salary and a more prestigious position.

I also felt proud of myself for interceding on Natasha’s behalf. I say this not because I consider myself a humanitarian or a Good Samaritan, but because the incident made me realize how vulnerable humans are and how easy it would have been for me to turn away from the figure on the sidewalk and walk by the woman, deciding not to get involved.

I believe we are only as capable as our bodies allow us to be. And as someone who suffers from hypopituitarism, hypokalemia (low potassium), diabetes insipidus and hyponatremia (low sodium), I decided to stop and render aid to Natasha because other people have helped me in the past when my potassium dropped or my sodium level plummeted to a dangerous mark, below 120 (normal range 133-145). I’ve passed out before and also became weak, dazed and disoriented. And people could have perceived that I was drunk or high on drugs. Instead they helped me and I got the medical treatment I needed.

Dunkin' Donuts cup on the sidewalk (not staged or rearranged).

Dunkin’ Donuts cup on the sidewalk (not staged or rearranged).

The following morning I walked to work up South Crouse Avenue toward the SU campus. Natasha’s Dunkin’ Donuts cup was still lying on the sidewalk, and I hoped by now she had been given some intravenous fluids at Upstate or at another area hospital and was either resting comfortably in a hospital bed or had been discharged. I also hoped I would see her on her feet behind the counter the next time I stopped to get coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.

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