Journey by Robert Garcia- Copyright 2015
This May will mark three years since I underwent major cancer surgery; a 7-hour operation that resulted in the removal of more than half my stomach, about 10% of my liver and my gall bladder. Five months earlier I had suffered a perforated ulcer, a dangerous situation in which I was within an hour or two of going into full-fledged septic shock, which would have been fatal. The ulcer saved my life because it was a follow-up endoscopy a few months later that found the cancer that would later be removed.
All’s well that ends well and I have been cancer-free ever since. The smaller stomach has allowed me to maintain my girlish figure. The liver regenerates, so no loss at all really. With no offense to God’s design, the gall bladder, whose main function seems to be processing fatty foods, I have not missed for a single moment.
After a combined 15 weeks of recovery from the two operations- I returned to work and got back into the swing of life, and I wrote the song, Journey. My Producer, Jeff Severson, says he thinks it’s the first time anyone has ever rhymed the words “journey” and “gurney.” One would hope it doesn’t happen too often.
The inspiration for the song actually came after the first operation when a friend of mine drove me home from the hospital and it felt in some strange way like I’d just been let out of prison. I’d been in there for a very long 7 days and I was just grateful to be alive. As the beginning of the song notes, the leaves were starting to change- Fall had arrived. The colors were beautiful. The cold nip in the air was refreshing. Like the tune says- “so much better than being dead.” And that’s the story I try to impart in Journey– the appreciation for a second chance at life.
Half way through the project, I decided to drop the song from the album. Musically, Jeff and I were not really connecting on it. It also seemed like a totally self-absorbed story. Lots of people go through stuff like this- what makes me so special and why should anyone give a crap what I have to say on the subject? But Jeff convinced me to put the tune back in. He pointed out that several hundred people had supported me and went along through my little health odyssey with me, following the thing on my blog and on Facebook; they might be interested in my take on all this.
I decided to make the song brief and to produce it as basically as humanly possible. No separate vocal and guitar tracks. No other instrumentation of any kind. I asked Jeff to just set me up like I was playing at a café or something. A mic on my voice, a mic on the acoustic guitar- and we’d record what amounts to a live performance.
So we did the first take. The song ended, and the last drop of sound from the harmonic that closed the tune faded into silence. Jeff turned and said, “That’s it.”
One take. First take. Bam.
I swear I could play Journey a hundred times over and it will never sound as spot-on as the version we recorded that day. It would be the very last thing we recorded for the album.
By Robert Garcia
Somewhere along a tree-lined road
I lost a heavy load
The leaves were turning orange and yellow and red
I was thinking to myself
This so much better than being dead
It’s been a journey
It’s been a long, long trail
I was lying on a gurney
Just an hour or two from heaven or hell
You learn to take things a day at a time
Sometimes an hour at a time
Sometimes, well, there’s no time at all
Sometimes, time flies- next thing you know it’s the fall
It’s been a Journey
It’s been a long, long trail
But it’s really kind of lucky
To have yourself another chance to prevail
I ain’t ready to say goodbye now
I ain’t ready to say farewell
Taking off into the deep, blue sky
Climbing back onto the carousel
It’s been a Journey
It’s been a long, long trail
And it occurs to me
It’s time to unfurl that sail
And so it goes
And here we go
Wherever the wind will blow
Robert Garcia- Copyright 2015
Dylan’s Ghost- Songs of a Lifetime is available for digital download at I-Tunes, CD Baby, and Amazon Music. Purists who would like a hard copy of the CD can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make arrangements to ship it out to you.
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!
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.
They’re called the National Bureau of Economic Research and somewhere along the line they got anointed the official declarers of when the American economy has entered into and exited recessions. You’ll be happy to know they are reporting the recession ended in June of last year.
Particularly sensitive to their suspicions the larger American public would issue one concerted and unified sarcastic laugh at their technical analysis, the NBER has taken pains to point out that recovery has been very slow. They add unemployment, currently at 9.7%, is always a lagging indicator.
And I will take pains to point out, that generally, the NBER is a lagging analytical organization. They usually make their declarations about a year after the fact. These academic economists are now concerned we’re headed for a double-dip recession, which considering how long they lag, we could be in it right now.
So what does all this mean for the 25+ million Americans who are out of work? This figure includes the additional 8% or so who have given up looking for work, don’t get counted in jobless statistics but are still unemployed. It means nothing. Much like the “official” jobless figures mean nothing by understating the real number of people out of work. That very month the recession “officially” ended, June of 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 550,000 Americans lost their jobs.
See, the NBER doesn’t really look at the jobless figures to determine the end of the recession. They base their analysis on the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product. This is the sum of all economic activity within the nation’s borders. There are three basic formulas for calculating GDP and one of them, for example, looks like this:
GDP= C+ Inv+ G+ (eX-i)
“C” stands for private consumption (what we spend on stuff). “Inv” stands for gross investments (what we spend not expecting an immediate return, like a company buying new machines to make widgets cheaper). “G” stands for government spending. “(eX-i)” is exports minus imports, a way of ferreting out what we made within our borders and what arrived here from outside our borders.
So there you go. In June of 2009, the formula said we got into positive territory and the economy stopped contracting.
With all due respect to economic analysts and the academic community that makes its livelihood debating these theoretical points, here’s another formula:
GDP we’ve explained. RJN is Real Jobless Numbers from which we subtract the OJF, the monthly Official Jobless Figures. NBER is the 8 academic economists whose work made headlines today. BS is a universally acknowledged acronym that means exactly what you think it does.
You can feel the “irrational exuberance” in the air. That was the famous phrase Alan Greenspan used as the internet bubble was about to burst at the dawn of the millennium.
Wall Street is feeling kind of giddy at the moment as it appears an economic recovery is underway. But have we really done anything to stop the “boom and bust” practices that very nearly took down the whole house of cards last year? No, not really. Billionaire George Soros is the latest to remind us.
Talking at a meeting this week sponsored by The Economist at London’s Haberdasher’s Hall, Soros said this- and mark his words:
Unless we learn the lessons, that markets are inherently unstable and that stability needs to be the objective of public policy, we are facing a yet larger bubble. We have added to the leverage by replacing private credit with sovereign credit and increasing national debt by a significant amount.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a nifty little recovery ahead of us, one that offers the promise of a little profit-taking over the short-term. But some time this decade, I, for one, will try to find the appropriate time to liquidate my 401K and get the hell out of the stock market and put my pennies in something safe- say, cash under my mattress.
Another warning sign; many of the same geniuses who couldn’t see the freight train coming even though they were fully bathed in the oncoming headlights two years ago, are saying everything’s just fine now.
Here’s CNBC’s Jim Kramer according to The Street.com; the same fellow who said Bear-Stearns was “not in trouble” less than a week before the March, 2008 collapse that took out the company, and almost the entire American economy, down with it:
“The turn in the economy is happening,” Jim Cramer told the viewers of his “Mad Money” TV show Tuesday.
“It’s right here, right in front of you,” he continued, and while it may not be visible to everyone, the time to profit from it is now.
Cramer said he understands why investors don’t feel like things are getting better. People are still worried about their jobs and the value of their homes, he said. People are still seeing lots of local unemployment, and are fretting over the need for tax increases to balance both state and local budgets.
Yet Cramer warned that while things might not seem better to your individual economy, the stock market is looking ahead. He said the markets are never late, they’re always early. He said if investors wait to make their move, they’ll miss the move.
Jim “Mad Money” Kramer may actually be right about the short-term. That’s what Wall Street’s all about; all short-term and no foresight. All I’m saying is enjoy the coming bubble, be smart, and get rich if you can. Just don’t pretend it’s going to last forever. Next time the bubble bursts, there won’t be a sovereign government in the world that will be able to stop the misery.