Saturday, October 24, 2009

healthcare reform? why? the old way is working out just fine!

how are you feeling? pretty good?

excellent. see to it you stay that way.

if you don't, the u.s. healthcare industry has lots of ways to make you feel even worse.

let's review a few, just for fun.

did you know that over 60% of the bankruptcies in this country are healthcare-related? which is to say, if you or someone in your family gets whacked with the sickness stick, there's a very real chance you'll go bankrupt. this is true -- even if you have health insurance!

i know, hilarious, right?

no, seriously: almost 80% of the folks who go bankrupt for health reasons had health insurance.

check out the business model. your customers pay you for a product that you promise to deliver "someday" when they need it most. they pay you and pay you and pay you. for years, or longer. one day they come in to your store and say, "hi, i need that product i've been paying for."

and at that point, you get to say, "mmm, maybe. or maybe i'll just deliver part of that product. or maybe i won't deliver any of it at all. i'll let you know what i decide, um, later."

is that brilliant, or what? you get the money and they get screwed. you get to invest the cash and get fabulously wealthy. and even if you make stupid, irresponsible business decisions, the government will bail you out. not to worry, though, you can still pay yourself huge bonuses.

and best of all, lots of your loyal customers actually like this arrangement. they don't don't want to change a thing! they like bankruptcy. and they call people who want a more equitable deal "socialists" or "commies" or "hitler".

truly an ingenious, uniquely american model. so tres free-market.

still, any health insurance is better than no health insurance. that's what forty-seven million americans have. zero health coverage. that's a lot of people walking around uncovered -- most of whom have no business walking around that way, if you know what i mean, and i think you do. this uncoveredness can lead to a chill, and all the bad things that invariably follow.

like death.

did you know 45,000 americans die every year because they lack health insurance? 45,000!

remember how exorcised everyone got when 2,400 americans died at pearl harbor, or when 3,000 died on 9/11? those events were appallingly bad, but check my math here: 45,000 is a lot more that 2,400 or 3,000. in fact, it's a lot more than 2,400 + 3,000.

to recap, that's 45,000 per year.

but if you put your ear to the wind, you'll hear a decided lack of howling outrage over the 45,000.

why is that, do you suppose?

because that's the way we roll. we're americans, by god, and we're fiercely independent. we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. and we defend those who screw us over, generation after generation because, well, that's just what we do, no matter how cliched and foolish it makes us.

don't ask why, because asking why is just plain unamerican.

there's not a thing wrong with the way we do things. if people get sick, they can go to the emergency room, where they can join the countless millions too lazy to, um, stay healthy.

swine flu, anyone?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

time munch

with everyone increasingly pressed for time, it's obvious that 60-second movies are the future.

here's "jaws"...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

it was twenty years ago today...

it's been twenty years since the loma prieta earthquake rocked the san francisco bay area.

i was there, sitting at my desk when the noise started.

the next fifteen seconds went on and on and on -- far longer than the time on the clock.

the shaking started just a heartbeat after the basso rumbling, and it still took a moment to register. no, it wasn't an 18-wheeler going by. this was something much bigger. then came the sound of a heavy filing cabinet hitting the floor above our heads.

my next thought was to get out of the building.

* * *

mrs. spaceneedl and i lived in the marina district in 1989. we had a great apartment at the corner of chestnut and broderick -- right on the tour bus route. that part wasn't so great. when the buses went by we couldn't hear a thing above the roar. we'd have to stop conversations, rewind whatever movie we were watching, and wait for quiet to return. until the next bus.

still, it was an ideal location, in a world-class city. it was minutes away from my job at an ad agency south of market, and a hub for the missus' job, which required her to travel to hospitals around the bay area.

on her rounds she regularly drove the cypress street viaduct in oakland, an elevated, multi-level section of freeway (almost identical to the alaskan way viaduct in seattle). the structure collapsed in the quake, crushing cars between its tiers.

i didn't think about that, and what might have happened to her, because she was out of town that day. it was close, though. her flight back to sfo was already in the air, and returned to minneapolis when the quake hit. she didn't learn whether i was safe or otherwise until three days later.

* * *

a colleague and i made it as far as my office doorway. at that point the shaking was so intense it was all we could do to hold onto the doorframe. from throughout the building, over the roar of the quake, we heard heavy crashes as bookshelves and cabinets and other furniture was thrown around.

the 15 seconds finally ended, the shaking stopped, and the noise subsided. the adrenaline rush continued for hours.

the yelling began immediately as we checked on each other. miraculously, no one in our office was hurt. the power was out, obviously, but the land-line phones still worked and someone had a battery-powered radio. the early reports said the bay bridge had collapsed and the marina was on fire.

for while, no one ventured out of the building. it was as if we weren't sure what to do next, how we'd get home, or what we'd find when we got there.

around the corner from our office a brick facade had collapsed, killing five people. the damage looked so minor, compared to the rest of the bay area. in all, 67 people died that day. given the scale of the destruction, it's a wonder there weren't more.

* * *

it seemed like a long time before we finally ventured out. dusk was falling, and the radio reports kept getting worse. some folks had gotten ahold of loved ones, who passed along exaggerated rumors of damage and death. the reality was bad enough.

i'm not sure how i got back to the marina that evening. i vaguely recall making my way along the damaged embarcadero freeway for a stretch, then heading west. it was full-on dark by the time i reached an entrance to the neighborhood, which was barricaded and guarded. i showed my driver's license and was waved in. our building was still standing, and people with flashlights were going in and out. i found the owner and borrowed a flashlight. i was expecting the worst as the two of us entered the apartment, wasn't so bad. one of our TVs was face-down on the floor, there were cracks in the walls and random debris was scattered about.

but the fact that we could get in at all was fortuitous, as there were buildings burning or down in the street all around us.

i numbly grabbed some clothes and some of our valuables (which in retrospect weren't particularly valuable), and threw them all in the car. i headed north across the golden gate bridge toward a cousin's house in novato.

they never even lost power.

* * *

mrs. spaceneedl arrived home several days later -- in the meantime, i looked for a new place to live. our apartment building was habitable, but was going to be without power, water or gas for 16 weeks. the owner agreed to cancel the lease of anyone who asked.

it was blind luck that i quickly found a condo in mill valley, on the tiburon side of 101. it was on the edge of the ring mountain preserve, and was only slightly more expensive than our place in the marina. it even had views of the city across san francisco bay.

the earthquake dreams began shortly thereafter. at least once a week i'd wake up sure we'd just had a major aftershock, though that never turned out to be the case. the dreams, startlingly vivid, continued until we moved to minneapolis a couple years later.

* * *

twenty years on, stories of the loma prieta quake resonate in me. i read the accounts of the survivors, and the remembrances of those who died, and it stirs deep, dark emotions that i'm not sure i felt at the time.

in the end, my wife, my friends and family who lived there...we lost nothing of any real importance in the quake.

so i wonder why i react so strongly -- and if they feel the same way -- when these anniversaries roll around.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

golden day

after three years, it's good to have a golden retriever in the house.

she's here, on the couch, next to me.

actually, the previous goldens weren't allowed on the couch. they were too big, and too covered with dog hair. if you can imagine such a thing.

kate is still relatively small, and not shedding too voluminously. she fits here at my elbow without any imposition at all.

other dogs have their charms, i know, and their adamant advocates. but if you can sit and watch a young golden retriever without laughing out loud, then no dog would ever suit you.

kate's just a puppy, and mrs. spaceneedl's dogs are two-year veterans in this house. but already kate knows she's bigger than both of them. she lords it over them in matters of bones, rawhide chewies, tennis balls and random play.

the best part is, the lording is done with an actual, unanthropomorphized good nature. no, really, it's statistically quantifiable. i'm almost sure. "let's play tug of war!" she says. "let me whack you in the head with my paw! let me use your leg as a chew toy! c'mon, it's fun!"

and always with the exclamation points.

if there's something she wants from the little dogs, kate simply happies them into submission. they don't always see it that way...but i do.

and it makes me laugh. my smiles-per-day average has gone up by an order of magnitude, and my overall mood has improved proportionately. the timing of which is fortuitous, as recently i have not set a particularly good example, disposition-wise.

mind you, not everything kate does is all fluffy bunnies and rainbows. the chewing of the window sill, for example. or the tearing up of the new dog bed. or the occasional peeing on the kitchen floor.

a more complete list of examples is available on request.

but the good obscures the bad like a huge thundercloud blots out the sun. which makes no sense at all in this context, but you get the idea.

i'm beginning to see why service and therapy dogs are so valuable for so many people.

i don't need therapy, yet (yes, you do. no, i don't. yes, you do. shut up, people are looking. i don't care. well, i do, so knock it off...)

...but i'm not averse to the kind of mood-altering substance that licks my face and sits on command and wags its tail so hard that its whole being shakes with joy.

no, i don't mind that at all.

it's good to have a golden in the house again.

damn, that hurt...

sneezing attack: bad.

sneezing attack while driving: worse.

sneezing attack while driving after neck surgery:


Friday, October 09, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

day tripping

the little epiphanies keep rolling in.

today, for example, i was afraid of a dog for the first time in my life.

kate and i were out for a walk, and a big black pit bull mix, sans owner, came charging across a busy street at us.

before june 24, i would've been fairly confident that if things went sideways, i would be able to defend kate, and myself, from any dog. it may have been a false confidence, but still, i wouldn't have been afraid, which is important in a canine confrontation.

now, given the state of my neck and knee, i'm fairly confident kate and i would've been flayed and filleted had this dog decided to have a go at us. fortunately a passer-by (who happened to work at the local animal shelter) intervened just when i thought things were going to get ugly.

we put as much distance between us and them as quickly as i could manage it, and it hit me that this fear thing is going to take some getting used to. i know this is true, because i can't ever recall struggling to keep from sobbing in public the way i had to at that moment.

later, a friend of mine observed, "now you know what it's like to be a woman -- every day."

well, no, i don't know what that's like. but i am gaining a new appreciation for feeling unexpectedly vulnerable. and for dealing with physical and emotional challenges that would've been no challenge at all just a few weeks ago.

walking with a dog used to be as easy as breathing. now i literally have to think about every step -- making sure the right leg is tracking straight, that i'm extra-cautious on a downhill slope, and that the dog isn't pulling me into a misstep. it takes a long time to cover ground that previously passed underfoot in no time at all.

yesterday morning avery and i took part in international walk to school day. at one point the walking school bus route took us down a semi-steep, gravel trail. nobody else had a bit of trouble negotiating the hill, but i slipped. my right leg went out from under me, and i was thisclose to a swift collision with the ground.

that would've been bad -- falling now is not like falling when i was a kid. i was able, barely, to regain my balance, but tweaked the knee in the process. that didn't hurt nearly as much as being the awkward old guy who nearly wiped himself out in front of his daughter. "geez, daddy, walk much?" (no, she didn't really say that, i just thought it. which was worse.)

my whole life i've been the guy people ask for help. "can you lift this heavy thing up several flights of stairs, please? thanks." sure, no problem.

now it's a problem. not only can't i help them, i can't even help myself. i'm in a state of unease and imbalance that doesn't suit me. at all.

these days, most falls have consequences.

my fall from the grace of careless confidence continues.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

more newsworthy

i complain about this surgery thing like no one has ever endured such misery.

i'm pretty sure that's not the case.

just within the last few days there have been reports of earthquakes and tsunamis and david letterman jacking up his ratings at the expense of his wife.

so, obviously, lots of people are worse off than i am.

additional cases in point: somebody sent some faux anthrax to the seattle times, not once, but twice. back when seattle was a two-newspaper town, the liberal Seattle P-I would've gotten the anthrax. now that the times is the only game in town, the right-wing loons have one fewer target for their domestic terrorism.

a catholic cardinal from africa says it's possible the next pope could be black. first a u.s. president, then the pope? a whole lotta white people are gonna be mighty peeved about that, don'tcha think?

speaking of sacrilege, this guy says he's duplicated the shroud of turin, and that anyone with a chemistry set and a blow torch could do the same. a whole lot of the faithful are going to be lining up at his door to show him the error of his sinful ways. meanwhile, salmon rushdie issued a press release saying, "go fatwah that guy for awhile, will you?"

gourmet magazine and three other conde nast publications are shutting down. not enough gourmands or fancy weddings to go around these days. people without healthcare hold protests, blaming the obama administration. "healthcare is a privilege, but every american has the right to a catered wedding with ice sculptures. barack obama is a muslim fascist socialist!"

to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the demise of the titanic, death-cruisers can relive the excitement of the voyage, complete with icebergs, cemeteries, and fabulous ports-of-call.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of, said the irony of the Titanic is "the boost that the tragedy has given to contemporary cruising. The fact that a ship sank and lots of passengers lost their lives has paled in the face of the romantic image that it portrays."

you just can't argue with that kind of logic.

to sum up: surgery schmurgery.

lots of people are worse off than me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


turns out doris has quite a good vocabulary after all...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

not-so-young frankenstein

recent events have left me with a two-inch, vertical incision on my neck.

what do you make of that?

no, really.

if it were your neck, and your incipient scar, what would you do with it? make up stories about how you got it? integrate it into a tattoo? install a sundial? attach a set of angel wings?

while the wings would be appropriate, i think they'd attract way too much attention, especially in a business situation. how do you accessorize (let alone hide) a set of archangel wings? i mean, you can't, right?

we'll table the wings, for now.

along with the sundial, for many of the same reasons. sure, it'd be handy on a hike (not to mention a great conversation starter), but ultimately too impractical.

* * * * *

before i intentionally forget it, the procedure i had wednesday was a posterior cervical foraminotomy. the surgeon removed a couple bone spurs at C6-C7, and part of a herniated disc at C7-T1. this decompressed the nerve and should eventually relieve the radiculopathic symptoms (weakness, numbness, tingling).

one article i read suggested the symptoms would subside "almost immediately," but so far? not exactly.

* * * * *

breaking update: just returned from a short walk with kate the wonder dog. actual exertion factor was low. perceived exertion: high. tsk, it's so sad. we're really defining down the meaning of "exercise" around here.

* * * * *

began the day determined to see how long i could go without taking any pain medication. it's nearly 2 p.m., and the little experiment is just about over. deploying an ice pack to forestall it a bit longer, but the inevitable is in sight. point of order: does a muscle relaxant count? does popping a flexeril equate to "taking pain medication"?

be careful how you day you may want to conduct this very experiment. it'd be a shame if you set a precedent that came back to haunt you later. just sayin'...

* * * * *

where were we? right, making up scar stories. tell me yours, i tell you mine. ("the seas were angry that day, my friends...")

(sidebar: ken griffey junior in what may have been his last big league at-bat... base hit up the middle. not as dramatic as a home run, but better than a strikeout.)

which leaves us with tattoos. not saying i'd get another one, but if i did...what would it be? something symmetrical, with the scar at the equator.

the suggestion window is now open.

* * * * *

let the record show i made it 'til 7 p.m. before giving in to the percocet. not bad, but still no red wine for me. ah, well. tomorrow is another day.

Friday, October 02, 2009

post-op standard ops

1. sleep. a lot.

2. in between naps, take drugs. it would be bad to wake up in-between doses. did that once. once.

3. eat. good appetite. complain that i can't drink wine while on the drugs.

4. apply ice pack to incision area. discover sore spots on both sides of head; remnants of wearing a halo brace during surgery.

5. check e-mail. and facebook. also twitter, sitemeter, nuggpuppy, seattle times, et al. repeat, in a fog, because i can't remember what i just checked.

6. make sure yahoo! fantasy football team is ready for sunday. also can't remember, is adrian peterson any good?

7. update itunes library while watching mariners game while blogging.

8. rearrange uncomfortable pillows. again.

9. make my way to the bathroom to pee or shower (not at the same time). move very slowly and carefully. notice that the pain meds make the knee feel like new.

10. absorb sonic bombs going off in my head when mrs. spaceneedl's little dogs get to yapping. must remember to take them along on next fishing trip. as bait.

11. remind myself that retaining the use of my left arm is worth this trouble. don't want to end up like inspector kent.