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The Washington Nationals: A Stunning ‘Regression to the Mean’

September 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Figure 1_Lessons Forgotten

OK, Nationals fans. It was ugly and dispiriting for most of the year. Every bounce went the other way. They led the National league in errors. If they had the bases loaded and nobody out, they’d figure out a way of stranding all of them. It was so bad, I was waiting for a headline like Strasburg tosses no-hitter, Nats lose 1-0.

The absolute low point was reached at 10:26 pm, ET on Wednesday, August 7th. The Atlanta Braves entered the 9th inning at Nationals ballpark with a 12-game winning streak, a 6-3 lead and, adding insult to injury, had escaped without repercussions after drilling Bryce Harper repeatedly in the series.

A Harper double and a Jason Werth walk gave the 29,000 fans a glimmer of hope. Then Ian Desmond struck out looking and Anthony Rendon fanned swinging. Wilson “Buffalo” Ramos stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run. He stung the baseball the opposite way toward right field; Harper and Werth in full sprint as the line drive shot out over the infield. It would end up falling into the glove of Jason Heyward. Game over.

The once mighty Washington Nationals had fallen six games below .500. The National League Eastern Division was put away for good that night. The tomahawk chops at Nationals Ballpark made for a painful reminder of the utter failure of a season gone dreadfully and inexplicably wrong.

Inexplicably, because there wasn’t a single starter in that Washington lineup you’d want to get rid of. Adam LaRoche maybe but there’s that stylish defense of his at 1st. And last year he carried the club offensively for an entire month. Rendon and Lombardozzi at 2nd. How lucky are we? Desmond at SS. Perennial all-star. Zimmerman scary at 3rd defensively and offensively anemic at the time- but the cornerstone of the franchise, regardless. The outfield of Harper, Span and Werth- untouchable. Even struggling at the plate, Span’s defense in center is gold glove quality. Wilson Ramos. Power, smarts and feel for handling our pitchers.

And who would you knock off the pitching staff? Dan Haren is the most likely answer because if he hadn’t literally been the worst pitcher in the entire sport for the entire first half of the season, the Nats would have been contending all along. But the rest of them? Really, folks, this is one of the top 5 pitching staffs in the game. And when he’s the “good Haren” he looks like he can throw a no-hitter.

But in the midst of the misery of that humid August night when they were whipped by their arch-rivals, the Baseball Gods seemed to awaken. They may be Gods but, in the end, they must abide by the rules of the universe, and specifically- the statistical theory called Regression toward the Mean. From our friends at Wikipedia:

…the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if it is extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first.

Statistics really do mean something in baseball. If a player has averaged X amount of production in pitching and hitting stats, over a 162-game season and accounting for their aging, the result is invariably within 10-15% of their career average.

Ryan Zimmerman is Exhibit A. Jason Werth is Exhibit B.

Zimmerman was showing the worst power numbers of his career. Until September. The man has hit 9 homeruns in his last 11 games. He now leads the club in that department. Nine homeruns is an insane amount for a month, much less a week and a half. That’s a pace to hit 132 homeruns over a season. Zimmerman’s Regression to the Mean has been absolutely breathtaking.

Jason Werth’s story spans three years. His first year as a National, Werth hit .232 with 20 homers and only 58 RBI’s. His injury plagued second year saw his average climb to .300 but only 5 homers. In his 3rd year is currently in third in the battle for the National League batting title. He has been the best offensive player in the game for over two months. He’s hitting .323, with 23 homers and 71 RBI’s. Werth’s Regression to the Mean is complete now.

Since the stinging loss to the Atlanta Braves August 7th, the Washington Nationals have the best record in the sport. They were 54-60 after the sweep. They have now gone 24-9. They were 6 games under .500. They are now 9 games above .500 at 78-69. They have won 7 in a row, 9 of their last 10, 13 of their last 17, 18 of their last 23.

For a team that won 98 games last year, clearly, Regression to the Mean was due and is in full swing.

To Nat’s fans- a note of caution over the next 15 games. So yes, they have gone 24-9 since the Atlanta sweep, but remember that after each of the 9 losses, the conventional wisdom was that the season had just ended. Some of the 9 losses were ugly. So ugly they obscured the winning tempo that was beginning to build. We almost didn’t see it, even as it was happening. Baseball and its 162 game marathon have a funny way of doing that to you.

But the trend is unmistakable now. The Nationals have found themselves but only at the very last possible, friggin’ moment. They will not win out. They can afford to lose probably three games at most. Do not panic when one of those three losses happen. The other 12 wins will have us “crashing the party,” in one of the most inspiring turn-arounds since the 2011 World Champion, St.Louis Cardinals.

And if they don’t get to the playoffs, rejoice that you got to see this kind of drama and heart and grit and pressure in the middle of September. Most ball clubs don’t get to the cooler temperatures of autumn with much of any hope at all.

The Congressional Vote on Syria; Brilliance out of Desperation

August 31, 2013 2 comments

msyria

So the President is throwing the issue to Congress. From the White House perspective, it’s so crazy it just might work.

It was looking bad. Like the president had painted himself into a corner with his own words about “red lines” being crossed if there were ever to be proof of chemical attacks in Syria. Astoundingly, the British parted with their American cousins for the first time since Lexington the War of 1812 and refused to go along.

The United Nations, which President Obama generally decried as feckless today, was a dead end with the Russians and the Chinese exercising veto power in the Security Council. Plus, uselessly, the U.N. inspection team that just left Syria is charged only with confirming that a chemical attack occurred, not which party was responsible for initiating it.

The vote in Congress on whether the U.S. will strike Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged involvement in the gassing of hundreds of its own citizens is not going to be along party lines. Strange bedfellows will be plentiful as hard core, dovish liberals join forces with folks like Republican, Rand Paul, whose libertarian views render him a foreign isolationist. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner will be working for the President.

Commanders in Chief don’t have to do this and Mr. Obama, protecting Oval office power as best he can, says he could have moved on his own but insists he has an important moral case to make and that we may as well have a public debate about it. This is a good thing for democracy. Historians may argue Obama has just seriously diluted Presidential authority.

This move also gets the President off the hook. If Congress balks, it was them. More than that- it was the “people.” If they approve, he has the moral high ground he’d never have received from the United Nations anyway. The stunning defeat of a pro-American resolution in the British parliament had to have affected this move by the White House as well. It didn’t look good that the Brits could debate this but our Congress couldn’t. It also didn’t square with Senator Barack Obama’s own views years ago that Congress should have a say on matters involving military action.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle probably doesn’t have the greatest legacy for gravitas, but he was a savvy politician and it was he who suggested to George H.W. Bush that Congress get a vote on approving the use of force in the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s. The resolution passed, the nation was united on the military action and within months President Bush would be sporting a 91% approval rating.

In his response to the President today, Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said the nation is at its best when President and Congress act together in common voice and he is right. There is much more riding on the coming Congressional vote than just a few surgical cruise missile strikes in Syria. The debate will encompass the totality of American foreign policy; the U.S. as global policeman, the lines that can and cannot be crossed in regard to how we respond to future atrocities- the proof needed to determine they happened and who was behind them.

Impressive throughout the debate has been the prominence of the Iraq experience in coloring the world perception of U.S. intervention in foreign affairs. The blow to American credibility has been severe. It was Iraq and the wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction that led the Brits to decide that this go round- no thanks.

So the debate to come is also about how we, ourselves, come to terms with Iraq. Does the U.S. become reticent, like in the post-Vietnam period, to project power on the world stage forever more? Can exceptions be supported when there are issues of genocide and crimes against mankind that shock us and shake our consciences. Do we even have an international conscience?

All worthy questions to be debated in the days ahead. For President Obama, good move from a civics lesson point of view. And brilliant move, politically.

Science and the Near-Death Experience

August 13, 2013 1 comment

Near Death Experience
Scientists say they’ve measured significant increases of brain activity at the approach of death, possibly explaining why people think they are seeing typical “near” death experiences like tunnels and bright, white lights, and feelings of being out of one’s body.

I think the scientists have bumped into something important here but my gut and I guess what passes for faith, both tell me we are not hallucinating these things.

First, the findings of the study as reported by the Washington Post:

Scientists from the University of Michigan recorded electroencephalogram (EEG) signals in nine anesthetized rats after inducing cardiac arrest. Within the first 30 seconds after the heart had stopped, all the mammals displayed a surge of highly synchronized brain activity that had features associated with consciousness and visual activation. The burst of electrical patterns even exceeded levels seen during a normal, awake state.

One reader commenting on the WP article made this point:

beacher2-

I am a fan of science but this article shows the limits of science’s “logic.” They assume that a surge of brain activity causes the near-death experience. But isn’t it also possible that an actual near-death experience causes a surge of brain activity?

As someone who has had a near-death experience. I can attest that it was certainly not an illusion. It was very real as were my interactions with spirits on “the other side.”

Bingo.

I read an interesting article years ago that theorized there is an enormous rush of endorphins that literally flood and overwhelm the brain at the time of death and that the chemical reactions cause the hallucinations we know as the near-death experience.

But even if true, who’s to say the release of endorphins is not the physiological gateway to the spiritual side? Maybe it’s not a hallucination at all. Maybe the feelings and visualizations that are triggered by the chemicals and measured in the increase of brain activity are the beginning of the transition to whatever lies on “the other side.”

I love science too but please don’t mess with my spirits and angels and tunnels and bright lights. If it is all a hallucination, it’s going to be my party anyway, so I guess I’ll see whatever I want to see.

Even the Reviled A-Rod Deserves Due Process

pitchforks_and_torches_by_themobplz

The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins has an excellent column today in which she points out that for as much of a clueless dolt as Yankee 3rd baseman, Alex Rodriguez seems to be, his notoriety should not be used as cover to deny the man due process.

Commissioner Bud Selig is reportedly “negotiating” with A-Rod right now; a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs or something much bigger- a lifetime ban from the sport. And this is where Jenkins blows the whistle. A lifetime ban puts A-Rod in league with Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox. You better have some strong evidence. And you don’t use such a thing as a stick in a negotiation.

It’s simple. The Commissioner lays out exactly what A-Rod’s done, proves it and hands out a punishment. His misdeeds are so heinous they merit a lifetime ban or they don’t, in which case, he should be treated like any other ballplayer, no more, no less.

And as much as fans despise Rodriguez for his overvalued contract and his already admitted PED cheating back in the early 2000s, there really are some issues at play here that are anything but black and white. It’s been leaked that A-Rod may have impeded baseball’s investigation by allegedly offering to buy or take incriminating paperwork from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Or is it possible, Biogensis owner, Anthony Bosch tried to extort A-Rod? Jenkins claims that could well be the case:

According to the New York Daily News, MLB officials have told Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch they would cover his legal expenses, indemnify him against litigation and put in a good word with any law-enforcement agencies if he cooperated with the investigation. Before Bosch made his deal with baseball, he tried to get money out of Rodriguez. All of that puts the commissioner in bed with a steroids dealer and semi-extortionist.

So there’s a lot we don’t know about the case. But this we do know. Bud Selig will always be remembered as the Commissioner who allowed cheating to run rampant in the sport while his fellow owners profited greatly from all those tainted home run balls that were clearing the fences back in the 1990′s- Baseball’s Golden Steroid Era.

The reviled and hated A-Rod may be a gift from heaven in regard to Selig’s attempt to escape this legacy, but it’s not right and it’s not fair to railroad anyone in an attempt to spruce up your own past history.

PED use has been a blight on the game’s integrity, morality and even its cherished statistics that used to offer a way of comparing the greatness of players from one era to another. It’s a good thing that Selig, Major League Baseball and now even the player’s union are clearly trying to stamp out this abuse.

But fans with torches and pitch forks and all of that hatred for an arrogant, cheating athlete not withstanding, you don’t accomplish that with a process that may, in itself, be abusive.

$2900 for a Room- $75 for a Sponge

July 24, 2013 4 comments
The Brazilian penthouse suite  at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro

The Brazilian penthouse suite at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro

The good folks at Georgetown University Hospital sent me a document the other day informing me of the charges incurred for a recent major operation. It was a long procedure, mind you, but in a country where it costs an average of $16,000 to deliver a baby, would it really come as a surprise that the total cost for the surgery and one-week stay came to $83,000? Hell, I’m not sure I’m worth half that.

My part of the bill, thanks to the insurance I get through work, was only $500 and even that was covered by my flexible spending account. I cannot even imagine what the uninsured go through. Anyway, in order to make my claim, Georgetown had to provide me an itemized, highly detailed account of how we got to $83,000.

Turns out my semi-private room was $2,900 a day. Just the bed. I started thinking. If I need to go through this sort of thing again maybe I can make a deal with the hospital. After I wake up in the recovery room, they can tell me how it all went and then call a car service and send me directly to the penthouse suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. I’ll do green Jell-O for the first three days then switch over to the buttered lobster.

By the way, a hilarious thing happens when you google “hotel rooms for $2,900.” You get dozens and dozens of hits for the following headline:

Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez Share $2,900 A Night Suite In Brazil.

That’s right, a penthouse suite at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil costs two celebrities as much as one night’s stay in an American hospital.

Then there were the sponges. I saw three of them used for the procedure and each one cost $75. Again, here is another opportunity I can have to make a deal with the hospital. The night before the surgery, I will, personally, go to the local CVS and buy 6 sponges for $4.99. As I hand them to the surgeon the next day (still wrapped, of course) I will explain that these sponges have the very same sponge-like qualities as his special sponges. They absorb stuff.

Just for the record, I have absolutely nothing against Georgetown Hospital; to the contrary, I see them as a magic, healing collection of wise and skilled shaman who happened to save my life and hundreds of other lives every week. But it does seem to be a strange and arbitrary health care system we have where one hospital charges $5000 for a CT-scan and another will charge $8000. Where lying prone in a bed automatically costs you the equivalent of a penthouse suite and where sponges sell for $75. It’s the business side of the health care system and it’s kind of shocking, should you ever have the chance of seeing it.

Here’s to you not having that opportunity anytime soon :)

Mariano’s Moment

(Photo by the great Bob Leverone)

(Photo by the great Bob Leverone)

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the New York Yankees have produced the best players in baseball through the decades and the All-Star game sendoff last night for retiring closer, Mariano Rivera, produced one of the single, most iconic moments in the history of the sport.

When the best reliever to ever play the game was brought in to pitch the 8th inning he did not know there was a conspiracy afoot. The players on the American League squad had worked it all out. With the exception of the catcher, they would not take their places in the field until after the standing ovation from the New York crowd. And so the Panamanian-born Rivera stood alone, by himself, on the pitcher’s mound, his eyes welling up with tears. His fellow All-Stars from both leagues lined up in front of their dugouts, applauding.

As he was showered with love and respect from the players and fans and umpires, Rivera, as he has throughout his career, epitomized dignity and grace. And sheer talent. You don’t see too many 43 year-olds playing this game. But this is no ordinary player. He wasn’t selected for the All-Star game for the sentimental value. He got selected because he’s still earning it. He has an ERA under 2.00. He has 30 saves. He is a living legend and we are all fortunate to have seen such a talent sometime in our lives.

I am old enough to have seen Mickey Mantle, but at the time he was just a shadow of what he’d been. It was maybe five years ago when my friend from ABC News, Jeff Fitzgerald, invited me to a Yankee game back when I was living in the Big Apple. I distinctly remember Mariano coming into the game in the 9th for the save and Jeff saying, “You know, that’s the greatest closer of all time.” And everyone has known it for damn near two decades now.

So just for the record:

- 638 saves, already a major league record with about 20 more to go for the season at his current rate.

- A win/loss record of 77-60 and a career earned run average of 2.20.

- 13 All-Star games

- 5 World Series rings

- 1 World Series MVP award

- 1 ALCS MVP award

- 3-time League leader in saves

Not goodbye quite yet, Mr. Rivera, but that was one magic moment last night. Baseball fans from every nook and corner of the world, no matter what team they root for, will always remember him for his skill, that unhittable cut fastball and for being one of the class acts in the history of the game.

Why Bryce Harper is a Hero and Baseball is Just a Game

July 8, 2013 1 comment
(Photo By John McDonnell, Washington Post)

(Photo By John McDonnell, Washington Post)

Baseball players can be jerks. Sometimes they ignore fans or practically snarl at them or walk right by when approached for an autograph or a photo. And talent is not a good indicator one way or the other of what kind of a human being a player is.

Bryce Harper has immense talent that is self-evident. A 20 year-old with the maturity of a 35 year-old in his approach to the game, he has an equal maturity as a just plain-old decent human being.

The picture above taken by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell (who used to work for the Loudoun Times Mirror eons ago) features Bryce shaking hands with Little League player, Gavin Rupp. Gavin has an inoperable tumor in his brain. Prior to his terminal prognosis, he had undergone surgery and other treatments and still kept his starting shortstop position on his youth travel team.

Word of Gavin’s situation reached the Washington Nationals and so it was that last Friday with the San Diego Padres in town, the club invited Gavin, his parents and his siblings to the ballpark. As Gavin’s family watched San Diego take their batting practice swings, Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout. Harper asked if they wanted to go out on the field. And they did. For a full hour, Bryce engaged the young man, took the lead in drawing him out and making him feel welcome and comfortable, gave the kid the cap off his head and treated him with the greatest dignity. Ball players don’t do this sort of thing for sixty minutes. Here’s The Post’s Adam Kilgore with the full story.

And then came July 4th. Bryce Harper lives in a penthouse apartment in my building in Arlington. He’s a rare sight. He drives his white Mercedes with the Bam Bam 34 plates directly into the garage, gets in the elevator to his floor and the only people who ever run into him are those folks who just happened to select the same elevator.

Every 4th of July, the management of the apartment building holds a little party for the tenants in the common ground with music and cotton candy, popcorn, burgers and dogs. And there he was this year, in a t-shirt, shorts and red sneakers, holding his sister’s brand new baby in his arms, hanging out with his girlfriend, family and a couple of other friends while his chocolate Labrador retriever, Swag, rolled in the grass. There were about 300 people at this event. Everyone knew Bryce was there. And everyone left him alone. Bryce, after the Nats had played the traditional July4th 11am game, felt comfortable enough to hang out with the residents and the residents minded their own business and just let him be.

Finally, Harper and girlfriend left the common ground, walking to a nearby restaurant and it was there he was finally approached- not by a resident, but by a casual fan walking down the street who happened to be wearing a Harper #34 uniform shirt. I overheard the exchange. “Oh my God- you’re Bryce Harper!” Bryce stopped and smiled. He immediately posed for a cell phone camera shot and shook the fan’s hand before moving on. He really does love the fans. At the player’s parking lot at National’s ball park, they’ll yell to him as he’s making his way to the white Mercedes and he waves and calls back at them with an ear-to-ear grin.

I’ve had heroes in my life. Mickey Mantle was one of them. He was Bryce’s hero too. Bryce wears #34 because the numbers 3 and 4 add up to 7- Mantle’s number. But my Mickey was deeply flawed. The first one, late in his life, to confess he had squandered one of the great baseball careers of all time, drinking and partying with the likes of Whitey Ford and Billy Martin. We all loved Mickey for his raw skill and seeming humility but in the end it turned out the bright lights were too much for the kid from Oklahoma. Too much pressure. Too much fear he would die young like many of the men in his family including his father. Too much, too soon.

Harper has none of this baggage. He has a large and supportive and healthy family. He is the definition of clean living. And he wears all that fame and talent with a great humility off the field, a great arrogance on it- the way it should be.

It is so nice to have a hero again. A guy you can look up to not just for his stats or hall-of-fame potential- but for his decency and kindness and understanding that while damned important, baseball, is part of life, not all of it.

Hi Ho Hi Ho- It’s Off to Work We Go

Seven-Dwarfs-cover-art1

It’s been an interesting journey to say the least but I am officially back at work at NPR today. So far so good. My colleagues have been so very kind and welcoming. I did not wilt in the heat. I did not get hit by cars in the street. My Dr. Seuss imitation will not be beat.

It’s been 7 weeks since the big cancer surgery. It feels like it’s my very first day at school. I went through the checklist before I left the apartment in the morning. Metro card- check. Reading glasses without which I would be blind- check. Cash- check. Sharpened #2 pencils- not necessary but you know what I mean.

My son, Charlie came up from Nashville and visited me over the weekend. “So how do you feel about going back to work, Dad?” The appropriate, manly, puritan work-ethic response would be, “Can’t wait!” The reality is that it’s another transition in a series of them.

First, a day before surgery you prepare yourself as best you can for uncertainty and what will be a long period of recovery. Psychologically, it’s like you get in the fetal position, let them do what they need to do and then just deal with it. I got through my 7 days of indignity at the hospital. The nurses and docs were all great, but it is just not possible to lie in bed with a tube attached to your nose that goes into your stomach or wear flimsy little hospital gowns and maintain any sense of decorum.

Then there’s the transition home and recovery. It’s a tricky business. You need to rest and sleep. You also need to walk and stay active. Too much rest and you just turn into a tub of Jell-O and your aches and pains get worse not better. Too much activity, and you get ashen-faced and literally hope you didn’t just bust a stitch.

A big transition, frankly, is when they take those stitches out. It’s hard to feel normal when you look down and see 36 metal staples holding your stomach together. After those puppies are gone, you start feeling a little less like Frankenstein.

And what did you do with all that time off, Robert? Well, I’d like to say I did research into the mating habits of Bonobo monkees or wrote a paper that helped to further define Einstein’s theory of general relativity. But, no. I read some great books. I watched three entire seasons of the Walking Dead (because who doesn’t enjoy eviscerating zombies) and two seasons of the Sopranos (which explains why I was overly distraught about the demise of James Gandolfini last week). I walked just about every day. Took in a couple of Nats games because, really, what an honor to be able to watch the worst offense in baseball in the past 30 years. And I completed a 5K walk in memory of my late colleague, Brenda Box, and in the process, raised a little money to fight pancreatic cancer.

And mostly, I attempted to accustom myself to the new rebuilt me. I call it Garcia 3.0. They took out a whole lot of my stomach so eating is a different kind of thing now. I can pretty much consume whatever I want, just smaller quantities, more often. I’m sometimes on the edge of nausea but it never lasts long. It happens if I don’t eat enough, eat too much and this is really interesting- when people get repetitive and annoying, particularly people on cable TV.

Next week, I start taking these chemotherapy pills. Hugely better than having to get infusions. The strategy as I understand it from my doctor, is to take 2 pills in the morning, 2 pills at night, Monday through Friday and do the best you can. You get weekends off to recover. On Fridays, they tell me, I’ll be beat and worn to a nub. But this particular regimen rarely results in either nausea or hair loss. Should I be the rare exception and lose my hair however, I’m telling you right now- I’m getting an earring.

So you take as much of this as you can for a minimum of four months, preferably six. Japanese doctors have their stomach cancer patients take the pills for a year. And when completed, presto! Cancer stays gone and 5-year survivability rates increase from 50 to 70%.

Next transition- getting home from work!

Walking All Over Cancer

June 4, 2013 1 comment
The one and only Brenda Box

The one and only Brenda Box

I am so psyched and happy to say that I’ve signed up to participate in a 5K Walk, June 15th, benefiting Purple Stride, an organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer, which claimed a much beloved colleague and friend earlier this year.

Brenda Box was the afternoon editor with NPR’s Newscast unit.  A kinder, warmer, funnier, sharper, smarter journalist-human will never be found.   Here is a tribute to Brenda from a few months back.   Accomplishing this 5K for her and in her memory is going to be very special to me.   As Brenda’s health deteriorated last year, I developed a few complications of my own.  It bonded us a bit more than most, I think.  The very day I had an endoscopy this year that would find the cancer in my tummy that I’ve had to deal with, was also the day of Brenda’s memorial service which I proudly, if woozily, attended (they put you out for an endoscopy).

I walk about a mile a day now.  Basically, to complete a 5K you take about 4,800 to 5,000 steps.  I can easily handle about 2,400 currently.  But I’ve got two weeks to build up to it.  I can do this.  It’s one hour of walking, for Christ’s sake.

One of the reasons for 5K walks like this, of course, is to raise money for the cause.  Here’s a link if you would like to sponsor my walk.  The group I’m with at Purple Stride is called the Boxtops.  I would be very proud to raise money for any organization dedicated to the fight against any cancer.

I’m doing this for Brenda because I will always love her.  And I’m doing it for me so I can prove to myself that I can take 5,000 steps six weeks after major cancer surgery.  In some silly way, I feel like I’m taking the torch from Brenda, and having been given the gift of a curable cancer, that I am literally finishing the race for her.  That will be her gentle push at my back.  And her prankster foot I dodge in her ill-fated attempt to trip me.  I’m on to you, Brenda.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from Recovery-ville

May 27, 2013 1 comment

Takes a Village

I don’t mean to turn this blog into a personal medical site, but God apparently did, so….

We’re just past the halfway point of the short side of the theoretical recovery period after most of my stomach, a piece of my liver and my gall bladder all sacrificed themselves in an effort to annihilate a 5cm tumor that turned up in my stomach 14 years after receiving unnecessary radiation in that vicinity following a bout with testicular cancer.

OK, with the background out of the way, what’s it like to recover from major gastro-intestinal surgery?  Meh.  Some days are better than others.  Some days are high energy, some days are low energy.  What is a constant is sleep.  This is the magic potion of healing.  I can drop a 2-hour nap in a New York minute (I know- that sentence must be a gross metaphorical violation of some sort).   The trick is getting 10-12 hours of sleep a day but not turn into a piece of the living room furniture.  You have to get out.  You have to walk.  You have to get in the sun.  You have to breathe the air.  Sometimes easier said then done.

A few days ago, I made my first distant foray from home besides the hospital to take in a Nationals game that reliever, Drew Storen tried to ruin for me but it’s not really his fault- he didn’t know I was sick.  The point is that when I mentioned my outing on Facebook, a friend noted “great you should be feeling so well to get out and about.”  In fact, without going into any detail, I will tell you categorically that was the single worst day of my recovery that I have had.  And that is precisely why I pushed on and decided it was imperative to get out and get TO the ballgame.   And it worked.  The field, the wind, the night air, the best game ever invented in the history of mankind- all conspired to make me feel vibrant and alive.  It did wonders.  Thanks to Drew, I got to leave after the bottom of the 8th and beat a lot of the subway crowd so even the Metro experience was pleasant.

This is about pushing the limits of your physical and mental boundaries.

One of the things I’ve done mentally, is divorce myself from the news within reason.  I am in the news business so it goes against instinct.  But I’m sorry, there is just too much conflict, violence, blood, natural disaster, evil, ego, banality, superficiality, celebrity-worship and general bullshit out there for it to possibly be healthy in any way to consume in large quantities at this time.  I’ll catch up later.

One of the larger adjustments is in the area of nutrition, appetite, food.  After leading a life, like most others I think, in which meals are defined by their taste, all bets are off now.  Foods that I used to secretly crave (and which are advertised more than any other) like cheeseburgers, french fries, fried chicken, have lost their appeal.  Food just tastes different.  With a smaller stomach, I also eat much smaller amounts.  And my appetite is all over the place.  Sometime I have one, sometimes I don’t.

The trick now (and this is too funny for words) is keeping my weight up.  After years of trying to watch my weight, I am currently losing about 4 pounds a week.  Add it to the weight loss that occurred after surgery and a week of hospitalization and we’re talking nearly 30 pounds.  Eventually this has to stop but right now, it feels great to be lighter.

In a couple of weeks I begin a discussion with my doctors about chemotherapy.  They seem to be all gung-ho about the poisonous little cocktails they want to give me to prevent any return of cancer.  They are going to have to convince me with science, research and logic.  The white coats and air of authority will not be enough.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my doctors.  They have saved my life.  I just don’t want a repeat of 14 years ago when the prevailing medical orthodoxy was to radiate the crap out of people.  It’s one of my own doctors who tells me he is now constantly running into patients with tumors who received radiation 15 and 20 years ago.  A debate for another day.  For now, a few more weeks for healing from the sharp, steely knives.

They say God works in mysterious ways.  I do believe the dude has tried to kill me several times in order to make me stronger and healthier.  Eventually, this time, I think it’s going to take.

 

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