Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bone Musk In The Workplace

I'm on the fourth week of my diet plan. If I hadn't looked at my calendar I would have guessed seven weeks. Despite the monotony and deprivation, it's going swimmingly. I'm finally flirting with the 199 mark I haven't seen in over two years. Which, coincidentally, was the last time I was on a diet kick.

I'm sure I would have passed the 200 pound milestone by now if I'd been working out solidly the whole time. But it seems I've been a victim of the fates conspiring against me. (I can't point my finger at myself, right?) First my lower back was giving me problems, then a bad cold laid me down for over a week. Now that my phlegm production is returning to a normal level, my back pain has flared up again.

This is where JB's Chinese surrogate Mom comes to the rescue. She gave me a packet containing some sort of Chinese herbal remedy and made me promise to try it. I would have preferred some Chinese oxycontin, but what's the harm in humoring a very nice person who is only offering to help?

I admit the package looks attractive, even if giving no clue to its content or intended purpose. If I ever get a tattoo, it'll look like this.

I was really hoping it would be tiger-scented.
Turning it over and reading the instructions on the back would be good preparation for visiting the Beijing airport. I'm able to make out that the packet contains adhesive patches which I'm supposed to slap over my owie. Okay.

I tear open the pack and the smell hits me in the face. It's like fish and gunpowder mixed with Vick's VapoRub. "Ewww!" JB grimmaced as he peeled off the backing paper and lined the patch up with the spot just above and slightly left-of-center of my ass crack.

Warm. And tingly. What's in this stuff?

A reasonable question. The kind of question a sane person would ask before adhering himself to a foreign substance. Finding the package unhelpful, I typed "zhuanggu shexian zhitonggao plaster" which, I assure you, is easier said than done. Okay, maybe not. It took Google 0.36 seconds to return 1,150 results.

Translation: Bones Musk Analgesic Cream

Active Ingredients:
  • Borneol
  • Camphor
  • Menthol
  • Rue
  • Methyl Salicylate
  • Artificial musk
  • Aconite (root)
  • Frankincense
  • Myrrh
  • Strychni
  • Clove (flower bud)
  • Cassia
  • Schizonepeta (aboveground parts)
  • Siler (root)
  • Herba gerami Periploca sepium (root bark)
  • Fragrant angelica (root)
  • Kaempferia galangal (rhizome)
  • Gotu Kola (whole plant)
  • Drynaria (rhizome)
  • Ginger
  • Extract of ruta graveolens
  • Belladonna

I recognize Frankincense and Myrrh from the Bible. This made me wonder, "Why would Jesus need medicinal herbs?" After pondering the theological ramifications momentarily, I continued scanning the list. I recognize Camphor, Menthol, Clove, Ginger, Belladonna...

Wait... Isn't belladonna poisonous? And what is Strychni? Could that be "strychnine"? Is that old woman trying to kill me? It was right about then that I realized my back was feeling better.

Sitting at work yesterday, a co-worker asked if I smelled VapoRub.

"Nope. Don't smell a thing."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jesus Take The Wheel IV

Here they are, another batch of smoldering church bus crashes. Jim thinks I have a weird hobby, and he's probably right. Why do I collect these news reports?

As I've mentioned before, I get frustrated whenever I hear anyone – usually someone of the right-wing Christian persuasion – try to tell me my lifestyle is dangerous.

The point I'm trying to prove is that by focussing on very narrow set of behaviors (e.g. riding around in church-operated vehicles) and then cherry-picking the most sensational results (e.g. spectacular wrecks that maim and kill themselves, their children and other innocent motorists and pedestrians) in a transparent attempt to impugn an entire group (e.g. Christians) you can make yourself look fairly nuts.

What I didn't expected when I set up my Google alert was to find so many results.

I know I've posted this one before, but I just love the writing. Especially
the action verbs like "clawed" and "ploughed".

July 24, 2013 - WI

Crash spares youth, takes out church van

A group of middle-school youth from First United Methodist Church in Downtown Madison escaped largely uninjured when an inattentive driver recently broadsided the church's van.

July 27, 2013 - TX

Church van accident leaves no injuries

A car accident on Friday, involving 13 children from Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church, left no injuries. At 3:45 p.m., as they left from a church conference in Tyler, the church’s van was clipped in the back by an 18-wheeler truck causing it to swerve into another 18-wheeler.

July 27, 2013 - IN

Church identifies 3 members killed in bus crash on Keystone Ave.

A youth pastor, his pregnant wife and a mother of five children were killed in Saturday's church bus accident, officials of Colonial Hills Baptist Church said Sunday. More than 20 people were injured when the church bus struck a median barrier and overturned near 96th Street and I-465 on Saturday.

July 29, 2013 - Italy

38 pilgrims killed in Italy bus crash

At least 38 pilgrims have been killed after the coach in which they were traveling crashed through the barrier on a section of motorway near Avellino, in the Campania region, falling nearly a hundred feet before landing in scrub. The 48 passengers were returning to Naples from a pilgrimage to a church dedicated to Saint Pio of Peitrelcina. Children are included among the fatalities.

August 1, 2013 - PA

10 suffer minor injuries in Adams County church bus crash

Ten people, all but one children, suffered minor injuries Thursday afternoon when a church bus was involved in a crash with a truck in Adams County, according to state police and hospital officials. The bus was carrying roughly 20 kids between the ages of 6 and 12 from Fellowship Baptist Church out of the Fairfield area, police said.

August 2, 2013 - GA

Mo. youth group safe after bus wreck

Seventeen people were injured when a bus carrying the First Baptist Church of St. Charles, Mo., youth group crashed on a steep, foggy, rain-slickened road in Murray County, Ga.

August 21, 2013 - Indonesia

At least 19 killed in Indonesia church bus crash

A packed church bus returning from an outing plunged 29 feet into a river Wednesday in Indonesia’s West Java province, killing at least 19 people and injuring more than a dozen, officials said. The bus, carrying about 60 people from a church in northern Jakarta, was returning from a trip to the hilly resort town of Puncak when its brakes apparently malfunctioned.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Veering Off-Topic

I've got a hot mess of church bus mayhem coming your way. Not literally I hope, but do be careful. (My high school driver ed teacher called it "A Constant State of Situational Awareness". Which in its own way sounded vaguely spiritual.)

It's been a busy month for Christians returning from summer prayer retreats and pilgrimages only to find themselves veering, careening, plunging, barrel-rolling or catapulting their way through the Pearly Gates.

Evidently seat belts are for ye of little faith. When God is your co-pilot and Jesus your GPS, the Holy Spirit is the only supplemental restraint system you'll ever need.

I'm still sifting through these all because my Google alert for church vehicle accidents often includes several red herrings. For example, a city bus crash on Church Street gets flagged. Same when a van forces a police car off the road which then crashes through a church. These are often entertaining in their own right even if they're not what I was originally looking for.

Here are a couple of these off-topic items to enjoy as I wrap up this month's holy crash scene investigations.

This one was flagged because the man who fell off the roof is a pastor, and his church members have been visiting him in the hospital since his accident. I find it difficult to believe this headline wasn't intentionally written to make me laugh. Or is it possible my sense of humor is so far removed from, uh, where is this? Manhattan... Kansas? Yeah.

The moral of this story: The only thing slightly less dumb than falling off a roof is falling off the roof of a hospital emergency room.

I don't know how this next article got flagged, but I think it's cool. You know, in a Dukes-of-Hazzard way. Maybe the truck was driven by a nun running 'shine.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Buddy System Saves Lives

It started Thursday afternoon. That familiar scratchy feeling in the back of my throat. I'm catching a cold? Seriously? It's still Summer, for crying out loud. I suppose my immune system can hardly be blamed for taking its autumn vacation a month or two early. The past week in Atlanta has felt more like October than August.

August 2013 graph of Pac's state of mind. As you can see,
the wheels started coming off around the 15th.

As much as I'm annoyed by the common cold, I was reminded it could always be worse. I'd already arranged to take Friday off work anyway because it was that time again. Time for my life partner, JB, to get checked-up from the rect-up. It was a procedure he'd scheduled months ago, on a day I remember it like it was yesterday...

Picture it: Rocky Mountain National Park, May 17th, 2013. The sun is warm, the air is fresh and clear, and wildfire season is still a week or two out. The only perceptible sounds are the birds in the budding trees, the babbling of ice-cold brooks fed by receding winter snowcaps, the crunch of our boots on the trail, and the labor of our breathing as we adjust to the altitude.

With our normal work-a-day concerns 1,200 miles to the east-southeast and more than a mile below us, JB's iPhone manages something it can never do at home. It locks a clear AT&T signal and begins to ring. And as we hike our way up Beaver Mountain, JB decides this is as good a place as any to take a speakerphone call from Digestive Healthcare of Georgia Endoscopy Center, LLC.

"Is he...?"

"Scheduling a colonoscopy? Yup."

I think to myself "I'm so glad Stevie got to see this first hand. I never really know if he believes half the crap I text." Cue wavy cross-fade back to the present.

I was introduced to the "colonoscopy buddy system" six years ago. After JB's oldest brother passed away far too young from colon cancer, family history made it prudent to get a good look at JB's insides well ahead of the normal starting age of fifty. Now that many of our circle of friends are reaching this age, it's not uncommon to be asked for "a ride".

This ride is a bit more intimate than asking to be dropped off at the Kia dealership on your way to work. It involves actually going into the appointment with your buddy and ceremoniously taking possession of his or her car keys under the watchful presence of the admitting nurse. I imagine it's what being friends with Lindsey Lohan feels like.

You are then required to remain on the premises in a room full of your fellow colonosco-pals while your loved one, close friend or sad acquaintance enters the machine. A clockwork system of moving gurneys which, I'm sure if he were alive today, would make Henry Ford smile. Because most historians agree he was that kind of dick.

Expect a 90 minute wait, give or take a polyp or two. During this time you may or may not have access to wifi, but there's guaranteed to be a television tuned to a channel in which no one is interested with the volume a bit too loud and no visible means of adjusting either. New waiting room companions continuously rotate in as others are called away to collect their charges.

When it's finally your turn, you're escorted through a curtain to your buddy's gurney as the effects of their light anesthesia wear off, and the air that inflated their colon like a tragic balloon animal is incrementally released. (The giggles are a give-away.) Meanwhile you're trying not to listen to the other balloon animals deflating through the curtains on either side.

Just as you start getting light-headed from unconsciously holding your breath, nurses start barking instructions like "no beans or raw vegetables" and "no aspirin or NSAIDs" and you start thinking you should probably be writing this stuff down. But they got you covered, and they hand you a print-out four or five sheets thick, stapled in the corner.

Now if you haven't been paying attention to anything before this point, this next part is key... Depending on how close you are to your buddy, if you're handed a print-out, seriously think twice before reading past the first page. I know it's instinctual to flip through the pages of any random document you're handed, especially when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. But take my word and resist this urge. Especially if you're squeamish. I wish someone had warned me there were snapshots in there.

You Are Here - Reading your colonoscopy results is a lot like visiting an
 unfamiliar mall for the first time. It may look like you've been here before
and it has all the same outlets, but it still helps to reference the Directory.
Except for Chick-fil-a, they always seem to be in the same place.
Every few minutes a nurse comes in to check the patient's vitals. The doctor may stop by discuss the results. Remember that it's impolite to refuse to shake his hand. It's your task to remember what the doctor says, because chances are your buddy won't. Then, once the nurse decides the patient is ready to leave, TAG! You're it.

This transition may seem shockingly sudden the first time you experience it. And no matter how much you protest, there's no takesy-backsies. The machine can not be stopped. This is why they expect you to take this buddy system stuff seriously. Your still-loopy buddy, looking confused, disheveled and a little violated, is in no condition to drive home and is counting on you.

In three short years it'll be my turn. And even though I'm counting on JB to call "payback" on, I'll consider myself lucky to have even just one other person in my life close enough to consider asking to take me. Sure I can joke about it, but it's actually a great honor to be asked. And you can always bank it and call "payback" when it's your turn. The buddy system works both ways.

This was my third time going through this routine with JB, and I'm happy to do it. Because they usually find and remove a polyp or two, he's required to go back more often than most people do. But since polyps which are removed early don't get the chance to develop into cancer, it's a no-brainer. JB was back to normal Friday afternoon with no lingering discomfort, just in time to take care of me. Ironically the cold I considered preferable to getting a colonoscopy kept me miserably in bed until Sunday evening. I lost an entire weekend and I'm still coughing and sniffling.

Please don't let embarrassment or discomfort prevent you from getting a colonoscopy or from helping out a friend in need. Preventing cancer and possibly saving a life is a pretty compelling upside when only downside I can think of is that your awkward experience might be used for someone's blog post.

Monday, August 12, 2013


This weekend I found myself in the unusual position of having no plans. JB was working a trip to Barcelona and all my friends were out of town. Normally I would cherish the opportunity for an entire weekend of "me time". (And no, that's not a masturbation euphemism. Not entirely.) But this being the 2nd weekend of my diet, I felt I needed a change of pace to keep myself from falling back on old habits.

So Friday afternoon I did what I normally do when facing a decision requiring moral guidance. I asked "What would StevieB do?" Fortunately, I don't have to guess at an answer. Unlike Jesus, Stevie usually responds promptly to my text messages. And the response was as surprisingly sage as it was concise:

"Road trip"

Hmm. I hadn't considered that. I could pack a duffel bag and a cooler and head out of town for a couple days. But where? Savannah is beautiful. And I've never been to Tybee Island. South Georgia was out of the question. Too many snakes and ex-boyfriends. And while the North Georgia mountains are nice, I've already seen much of that area while camping.

Wait... camping! I could bring the tent and save the expense of a hotel. And there's a campground I've never visited but have heard about in whispered legends and tales told around gay campfires. This could be my chance to finally see for myself if this idyllic place really existed!

Then I started second-guessing myself. For one thing, I was pretty sure JB would never approve of my spending the weekend at a gay, clothing-optional campground. Make that positive JB would never approve. I can debate at length whether or not that's reasonable of him, but there was no rationalizing the fact that this undertaking would be at odds with his wishes and expectations.

Not that this was the deciding factor. We both occasionally do things that we don't tell the other about. I usually find out his indiscretions when he feels guilty and confesses. And he usually finds out about mine when our nosey neighbor blabs.

So asking the neighbor to cat-sit was out of the question. Normally I could just top off their cat food dish and leave them alone for 36 hours and deal with the passive-agressive poo once I got back. But the fat one has been sick and needs his medicine three times a day. Who could I find to do that?

Finally, the probability of rain was close to 100%. I talked myself out of going.

I stayed home Friday night feeling extremely lame. I felt like I was letting my fear and apprehension get in the way of a spontaneous adventure. A chance to do something that was so unlike myself, even I'd be surprised. Who knows when an opportunity like this would present itself again.

I also had the feeling I was letting Stevie down, by not repaying his good advice with an equally good story of following it.

On Friday night I thought I smelled gas in the hallway of my condo building. I reported it to one of the board members who said she'd look into it and I went to bed. A couple hours later I woke up to the smell of gas in my bedroom. This time I called the gas company directly. They had to enter the unoccupied unit next door to find the stove was wide open but not lit.

Saturday morning I started feeling better. I'm sure someone else would have eventually called the gas company before the building exploded. But I still had the feeling I made the right decision by staying home. I channeled my craving for adventure into two days of unbridled "me time".

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Whaa, Whaa.
Today I noticed I've written two blog posts in the past week, both of them still in "draft". Why haven't I posted them? To be honest, I've been kind of a pill lately and both read like they were written by Debbie Downer.

I've been on my prepared meal phase for a week and a half now. Remember those public service commercials where they fry an egg to represent a brain on drugs? Well, my brain on a diet is no picnic either. See what just happened there? I said "picnic" and now I'm thinking about hot dogs, potato chips and macaroni salad. And fried eggs.

It's funny the things I normally take for granted that stick out like a sore thumb when I'm dieting. Have you ever noticed how many nighttime TV commercials advertise food? Especially fast food and pizza delivery chains. When JB has the remote, I find myself just going to bed early.

Then there are the things I rarely eat under normal circumstances that I suddenly find myself craving. I stopped eating chicken wings years ago after getting braces. Wings are such a social food after all, and I found a smile full of bird sinew to be incongruous with modern social norms outside of France. Even three years post-braces, I still find myself avoiding finger food that comes on bones or cobs.

Yet the other night I had a dream about hot wings. Baskets full of spicy chicken wings dipped in bleu cheese dressing. I awoke with a start to find my cat, who has taken to sleeping on my pillow lately, drenched in saliva. Only this time it wasn't his.

I suggested that he might want to sleep in his own bed for the next few weeks.