Monday, November 30, 2015

My Colonoscopy

That deflating sound you hear is my disappointment over the anticlimactic experience with that medical procedure that signals the beginning of old age: the colonoscopy. Here I was anticipating something similar to the ordeals suffered by the likes of Billy Connolly, Jeff Foxworthy, and Bill Engvall. Alas, there were few fireworks, but still a little comedic material in my case.

My general practitioner referred me to the Pikes Peak Endoscopy Center, and I was surprised that they could accommodate me within the month I called them. A week prior to the procedure I picked up my "prep kit," as shown in the image above. You can't say they don't have a sense of humor, however warped.

Everyone you consult prior to your colonoscopy will tell you the procedure itself is a piece of cake, but the preparation beforehand is a nightmare. In fact, the day before, you can't have cake. You can't have anything solid. The day before that you are supposed to be on a low-fiber diet. One bonus was the discovery that Ritz crackers have no fiber! It was a good excuse to go all meat and white bread, but if you like a more varied menu it was pretty boring.

The day before is the worst, though. You have to take an inordinate amount of laxatives, in a pretty short period of time. I expected this would amount to a liquid hand grenade detonating at my anus. Not so. There were maybe one or two projectiles ejected with minor force. No volcanic elimination described by our comedian friends.

Perhaps the whole "prep" thing has evolved and improved dramatically since the 1990s. Maybe I followed the dietary restrictions better than the average Joe. Whatever. The remaining laxative effects consisted of me being unable to tell if I was peeing or pooping.

So, I get to the clinic the day of the procedure. I was treated very nicely, I must say. The nurse took me into the room, told me to undress and put my gown on so it opened in the front. I told her she'd have to tip me for that show. She laughed and corrected herself, then asked if I might like a blanket. I said that would be nice, especially if my gown was open in the front.

The anesthesiologist wheeled me, in my bed, into the operating room where the doctor and another nurse were waiting. After introducing himself, the doctor dutifully re-iterated the risks of the procedure. I think I'd prefer that they leave me in ignorant bliss. Then the anesthesiologist said "Ok, this (anesthesia) works very quickly, and you will notice a metallic taste." (He shoots the drug into the IV). Me: "E-e-e-e-w, you're right, that does taste awf...."

That was the last thing I remember until I woke up in recovery. This may be why so many alien-abduction victims are over fifty. A nurse came in and offered a selection of snack items and beverages. The "Bottoms UP Cafe" provides a variety of gourmet blends, from "Lights Out Latte" to "Wake Me Up Before You Go 'Joe'." I chose a "Moon Me Mocha."

What was the result, you ask? Well, they did find and remove a small polyp that turned out to be benign but potentially cancerous. So, I'm cleared for now, but need to report back again in five years (instead of the ten year reprieve you get if no polyps are found).

I want to thank my doctor for being polite but insistent that I get this procedure done, and my friend Philip Kline for also being insistent. Lastly, I'd like to thank my wife for carrying me on her insurance from her workplace. Kaiser Permanente paid for the whole thing, which is as much of a relief as having the actual colonoscopy....dare I say....behind me.

The End (of the puns, too)

Sunday, May 31, 2015


Few people agree with me (or want to admit) that capitalism in its present form is the source of most of our economic, environmental, and institutional ills. We want desperately to cling to our belief that the "American Way" is the *right* way, the *best* way, the only way; but we might be wrong. At the very least, we have an escalating problem with the sheer scale of capitalism. It no longer benefits everyone, and that puts at risk something far more sacred than capitalism: democracy.

Let us look at what corporate capitalism has done for us (or to us) lately:

  • Reduced consumer choices
  • The bigger the corporation, the fewer the choices for the consumer. What results from mergers and acquisitions is the illusion of choice. Take television for example. Mergers of various networks insure that we will see the same content distributed over several channels instead of new content on those other channels. Sports are increasingly televised on stations for which the consumer must pay extra as part of a cable or satellite package. This amounts to consumer coercion, whereby formerly free broadcasts are now held in virtual ransom. More disturbingly, news media are being concentrated into fewer and fewer outlets controlled by corporations that filter the news to further their own corporate, political, and economic agendas; or distract us with fear-mongering and celebrity status reports.

  • Suppressed technologies
  • When you have an existing industry firmly entrenched in the status quo of the marketplace, it will exercise all its power to maintain its dominance. Hemp is an example of a raw material that would compete very favorably with cotton, paper, even plastics and some metals. Those existing industries act to suppress the hemp industry through lobbying our government representatives and agencies, and spreading false information to consumers. Hemp is a relative of the marijuana plant, but contains only a fraction of the chemical compound that gives marijuana its pharmaceutical and recreational properties.

    Only recently have alternative, sustainable, and clean energy technologies been allowed to blossom. Even these have come under attack because of the scale of those enterprises. Giant windmills kill birds and bats, but all resources for wind energy are directed to those large-scale models. Bird-friendly, small-scale alternatives are ignored.

  • Fewer consumer, labor, and environmental protections
  • Most major corporations on the Wall Street scale honor only their monetary bottom line and increased revenue for shareholders. The consumer, employee, and environment all take a distant back seat to those goals. To that end, lobbyists argue for erosion or outright repeal of existing laws aimed at affording labor, consumer, and ecological protections. "Studies" are rigged or altered or biased to reflect business interests. Conflicting research is suppressed. Recalls of dangerously defective products are postponed. The Clean Air Act is constantly under fire, as well as the Endangered Species Act and other landmark legislation that is arguably among the best ever enacted by *any* government on a national scale.

  • Corporate Welfare
  • The welfare distributed to individuals and households in poverty is nothing compared to the dollars delivered to corporations and industries annually. We pay lip service to, and worship, the "free market" as the God of the economy which, left unfettered by regulation, will allow businesses to flourish; yet we prop up failing industries with subsidies, tax breaks, and bailouts that seem to always be lavished on CEOs and shareholders without even a trickle down to workers and consumers. We protect ailing industries with import restrictions and tariffs. Left to the "free market," those American industries would wither and die. They do anyway, of course, as manufacturing is transferred overseas to cheaper (read "substandard") labor forces.

  • Perpetual definition of the "American Dream" as the attainment of material wealth
  • It can be argued that the accumulation of wealth is in itself a goal not worth pursuing, and at worst a lifestyle that threatens the well-being of others, and even the planet itself. Consumption and economic growth as we are accustomed to in this century are definitely not sustainable, and take resources away from more vulnerable human populations. One would be hard-pressed to refute the idea that the Earth could benefit from fewer numbers of Homo sapiens, and certainly from less "development" of natural resources.

  • Increased stress and decreased physical health
  • Our physical and mental health are at risk from social, cultural, and economic pressure that are inflicted upon us or that are self-generated. We are valued in the marketplace only for what we can consume, not what we can produce, unless it is more consumers in the form of children. Our labor is consistently undervalued to the point of corporations balking at a raise in the minimum wage; and suppression of collective bargaining to insure workplace safety and fairness. The end goal of industry is production without labor, but the unemployed cannot afford to purchase products.

    How we value ourselves is just as important as cultural expectation. I, myself, constantly struggle with the idea that my wife is the major breadwinner in our household. This flies in the face of the "standard" I was brought up with. It takes a major effort to remind myself that my ego is not the point of our marriage; and money is not what strong relationships are built on in the first place.

There is reason for hope. All is not lost. In fact, there are surprising trends that indicate a potentially bright future ahead. Community gardens and farmer's markets are springing up almost daily, taking our food production back from corporate agri-business and returning it to local roots (literally). The "tiny house" movement is spreading, and demonstrating that a lifestyle with fewer material possessions means stronger personal relationships and an enhanced sense of community (while going off the grid in many cases). There is increasing demand for better public transit, more walkable neighborhoods where one can work, live, and play without dreadfully long commutes in a vehicle powered with fossil fuels. We still have power, folks, beyond the voting booth, and the internet age allows us to quickly find friends and support for what we believe is important. Thanks to crowdfunding, we can even find money for making those inventions and community projects happen, without dependence on institutions firmly entrenched in the status quo. Go for it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ode to Logan

Yesterday evening we bid farewell to our best friend, Logan, a Sheltie mix that had blessed Heidi's life for fifteen years, and mine for the last four. We had a professional humanely euthanize him, and it might even have been a bit overdue. It was becoming more painful for us to watch Logan labor through his days, instead of truly enjoying life. He was 16 1/2.

This was my first real pet, in the traditional sense of cats and dogs, and I found it surprising how quickly I fell in love with him. I'm already missing him licking my nose; the soft sound of him shaking to fluff up his fur; the clinking of his tags as he trotted ahead of me on the leash. He rarely barked, but I think I even miss that.

When I first met Heidi, her answering machine greeting began "You have reached Heidi and Logan...." It took me awhile to recall instantly that Logan was the dog and not another suitor. In retrospect, I realize I had quite the competitor in terms of loyalty and unconditional love.

No matter how much my education in the sciences reminds me of the dominance of instinct in other animals, I can't shake the idea that Logan was more than that. Even if he wasn't, his endearing quirks and unique personality were captivating.

I am sure that for many days, even weeks from now, I'll stop myself and think that I need to go walk the dog, feed the dog, check in on him downstairs if I am upstairs. Logan was a rescue obtained from a shelter, and we are unsure what trauma, if any, he sustained before Heidi got him. He certainly got stressed out over the microwave, when he could still hear well. He was always reactive to strangers, though quickly settled down in the presence of our friends.

Logan won't be replaced any time soon. I mean, he won't ever be replaced in our hearts; but we won't be getting another dog in the near future, either. We might move, and wouldn't want to visit that stress on a pet. At the very least, the carpet needs replacing lest it drive another pet nuts from residual odors alone.

I'm not sure whether there is a Heaven, but if there is, I am confident that all other animals go there, too. I would not want any part of the afterlife if that was not the case. We are comforted a little by the idea that Logan is finally free of physical limitations to truly enjoy dog paradise. Rest in peace, sweet buddy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Chessboard clearcuts
With power-tower pawns
Electric station queen.
Progress wins again.

Nazca lines
Make no sense
Only cars know their destinations.
Circle fields
Along tangent roads.

Bisect rivers,
Span lakes.
Divide streams,
Diverted water is confused.

Eric R. Eaton, circa 1982.