Friday, December 31, 2010

Drink of the Day: Drunken Holly

Now it can be told. This is a drink that I created as a tribute to someone very special.

For all my interest in cocktails, I've never been creative enough to invent many of my own. I have no formal bar training, and I pretty much stick to recipes offered up by others, at least until I get comfortable enough with one that I try making some variations.

But I do know what I like, and I know good combinations when they come along. And in this case, I found a combination that is exactly what I'm looking for.

This all started when, in a flirtatious moment, I remarked to a friend from work that if we were to make a cocktail that carried her name, it would have to be equal parts sweet and tart, with just enough bite to leave you wanting more. It sounds like a line, but it was an honest -- and completely unplanned -- assessment of her. And I should know; I've admired her from a distance for a long time, and at the point of this conversation, we were further down the road of flirting than I realized.

That only continued, so I resolved to actually create the drink. I started with a base of good, crisp gin, and I liked the idea of equal parts lime and pineapple juices, to achieve the aforementioned balance of sweet and tart. But I struggled with where to get the bite, and early versions were still a bit too tart. I tried to resolve that with a small float of coconut rum, but that dominated the palate and made it into a completely different drink, much too sweet. After 5 or 6 failed attempts over a few days, I paused, and while casting about for something to drink, I made an Aviation.

Bingo: Maraschino liqueur. After that, it was a matter of rounding out the flavors just a bit. So I present to you:

2 oz Bombay Sapphire gin
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh pineapple juice
1 tsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz triple sec

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a pineapple chunk, a cocktail orange slice, and a cherry. Serving suggestion: Double the portions and share with someone who wakes up the best parts of your heart and soul.

As good as this drink is, if I do say so myself, this post is ultimately not about a cocktail. It's about a girl. It's about a girl who came along at the most unexpected time and was everything that I could have hoped for. Consider the circumstances: In late August, I was absolutely not looking for any kind of relationship or even any dating, having come off of a hurtful breakup not long before and with my medical saga just starting to unfold. Even if I had been looking, how unlikely, I would have thought, to find someone who was unfazed by the three-month ordeal ahead and willing to get involved at that very moment.

But there she was. And she never hesitated. Even when our fifth date, if you can call it that, entailed meeting my parents. It was WAY too early for that, but I was less than a week out of surgery and dinner at my house was pretty much the only option. Even when the second surgery date was set later than I'd thought and the whole stretched into January, she immediately looked at the bright side, filling up our calendar for the weeks between surgeries -- and, at the same time, reminding me exactly why I was working so hard at a new quality of life.

There's a line in that great standard, "I've Got You Under My Skin," that goes "I'd tried so not to give in/I said to myself, this affair never will go so well." There were moments I was pretty convinced that the timing was terrible, and in truth, I just wasn't ready to risk getting hurt again. But if there's one thing the last few months have reinforced for me, it's that I'm not in charge of these big momentous things in my life. God is. And who am I to say that I haven't been led to precisely this place at precisely this time for precisely this reason?

And it was pretty easy to give in. Because -- if I haven't made it clear -- Holly is amazing. She's brilliant; her mind blows me away. I've never had longer, deeper, smarter conversations with a woman. No one has ever made me laugh like she does. She's beautiful. And a redhead. (Help! Help!) She has her own life and her own interests, and she wanted a relationship to complement, not complete, her life. That's what we do for each other.

Others have said this, but I agree: We just seem to fit. We were friends first, and because things built slowly, everything between us made sense. She quickly became an important part of my life. When And finally, she CRACKED UP at Denis Leary's "No Cure For Cancer." That's pretty much a prerequisite if you're gonna roll with me.

So as you can see, there was no shortage of inspiration when it came to creating a cocktail in honor of Holly. This is my way of letting her -- and the world -- know how she's touched my heart and how much I love her. Today marks 4 months that we've been dating, and when I think about the best parts of 2010, and what I'm most looking forward to in 2011, she's the first thing that comes to mind. Aw heck, she's almost always the first thing that comes to mind, period.

Oh, and if you're wondering, yes, she was quite impressed with the drink. To the point that I've been instructed ... er, challenged ... to create a wintry version. To the bar!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cue the Whitesnake, because here I go again

In the blink of an eye, the day is here for Surgery No. 2. And not a moment too soon.

The need for this one -- a total replacement of my left hip, for the first time -- has become stunningly obvious over the last few weeks. As my right hip has gotten stronger, more flexible and completely pain-free since it was "revised" two and a half months ago, the limitations of the left hip has become apparent. It hurts all the time now. It wakes me up at night throbbing. My leg is completely inflexible.

This is an unusual situation for me. For years, the left leg has been the strong one, the good one. When, in 1993, I first developed sharp, blinding pain in my right hip, one of the things that my surgeon then pointed out on the X-ray was that the left leg appeared to be in just as bad shape as the right -- no cartilage to speak of between the femur and the hip socket. But if it didn't hurt, he shrugged, don't worry about it.

So that's what I did, for years. Even as occasional soreness popped up, I chalked it up to activity or weather or just a bad day. And when it became increasingly difficult to move, I figured well, maybe if I exercise or lose weight. When it got so bad I could barely tie shoes, I bought slip-ons. And when it became obvious that these surgeries were necessary, I of course had the right done first, because the replacement already in there had "failed" and was in danger of causing serious damage. So I asked the left leg to hold out a little longer and bear the brunt of rehabbing the right again.

Now, the price of all that inattention is pretty clear. My left leg is fucking killing me. So, I'm off this morning to have that hip replaced.

Dr. Badass says this procedure will only take about an hour, and the recovery is expected to be dramatically quicker than the first -- 4-to-6 weeks, as opposed to 6-to-8 for the revision. The incision will be smaller, and the restrictions fewer.

I have almost no trepidation about this one. The first, I was very much ready to do, but I was of course nervous. Not this time. The recovery in my right leg has been so dramatic -- that's part of the reason, I think, that the left now seems so bad, because I have something close to normal to compare it to -- that I can't imagine how good the left is going to be. I can't fathom what it will be like to bend over without holding on to something to steady myself. I cannot picture walking straight, without one leg or the other swinging out for balance. I don't know what it will be like to be able to sit with both feet even on the floor, or to stand with my feet point forward, not bowing out.

But I'm eager to find out.

There will be intense physical therapy again, this time with a heavy focus on gait training to unlearn all the bad habits I've picked up to compensate for these two very bad hips. There will be restrictions on bending and crossing my legs, and, I'm sure, at least a few miserable nights sleeping on my back.

But after just a few weeks of will be over. I will be healthy. My life will be mine again, and I won't have to approach every moment of it wondering, can I do this, or can I handle that, or how much will this hurt?

In short, I'm a month or so away from an open door that leads to the life I've always wanted. I hate to be laid up over Christmas and New Year's, especially with a new love whom I want to celebrate with. But the new me, the repaired me, will finally be in shape to make it up to her. And I will. Every chance I get.

So the iPod is loaded, the bag is packed, and we're off, again, to Pine Creek Medical Center. This time, I can see the destination on the horizon. It looks glorious.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The half-way point, more or less

I've hit a huge milestone in my recovery: As of Friday, I am declared well from a right hip revision, freed of restrictions and cleared to go back to work. I do so today, after 59 days away from the office. This is all to the good. I am so grateful and appreciative for where I am. And yet, it feels like a big pause in my overall journey.

Let me explain.

I saw Dr. Badass on Friday, eight weeks after he replaced the socket cup and femur head that were substituted, in 1993, for the flawed equipment I was born with. For at least two weeks leading up to this appointment, I felt that I had reached full recovery, or as close as one can get in so short a time. I haven't had anything I would describe as pain in weeks. I've been able to fend for myself for a while. And I had gotten comfortable enough moving about the house that when my darling dinner guest last week asked "um, where's your cane?," I had to look around for it. For a couple of weeks now, my right hip has felt stronger and more flexible than it did before the surgery, on Sept. 24.

So the surgeon essentially confirmed what I already knew. Everything looked great on an X-ray, the bone grafting is healing nicely, and nearly all restrictions are lifted. I no longer have limits on things like bending over, crossing my legs, or swimming (my favorite form of exercise). I even have permission to abandon the cane, at least around the house. I still have to use it in the wider world, but that's more a precaution against falling than that I actually need it to get around. In essence, the doc said, do whatever you can, but if it hurts, don't do it.

Recovery from this kind of surgery is, of course, a spectrum across a long period of time. Much of it happens early on, but not all of it. I am 1000 percent better than I was when I left the hospital but not nearly as good as I'll be in 3 months, or 6 months, or a year, when both surgeries have had a chance to fully heal.

There's the rub. Surgery No. 2 -- a total replacement of the left hip, for the first time -- is bearing down quickly -- 2 weeks from this coming Friday. So I feel in a bit of a state of limbo, like I have a brief reprieve but am right back where I was in early September, preparing for a life-altering surgery.

Already, I feel like a different person. My right hip feels better than it has in years. Even when I do a lot of activity, it doesn't hurt. It almost never feels weak. Now, after years of babying it, it's my strong leg, the one that is about the bear the brunt of moving around. Even though it's not fully healed, it feels so good that the pain and stiffness in the left hip is now acute, ever-present. For years, that left leg has done yeoman's work, compensating for a failed replacement that I ignored for far too long. Now, it's the weak one, so much so that I can't ignore it.

And yet, there are signs of the longer-term recovery yet to be reached. For example, even though I have permission to cross my legs, no one appears to have told them. I tried the other day and if parts of your body can shoot you a dirty look, that's what happened. There's also the little matter of learning to walk properly. You might think it comes naturally, but try to stop and think about every little movement that makes up taking a full step, and concentrate on doing it properly. Heel first, then toe. Bend your knee, but only so much. Keep your foot turned straight in front of you. Keep your legs closer together. And that's all with one leg. I can't even imagine trying to do both correctly at the same time. But like I said, it's a long-term process.

So for now, I'm stepping back into life, briefly. I'm really looking forward to getting back to work and contributing. (No, really!) It feels like returning to school after summer break. Hell, I've even got the new "school clothes" to go with it. Between the beard and my continuing weight loss, I look like a different person than I did 8 weeks ago.

Three scant weeks, though, and then I'm gone again. It's just enough time to get back in the groove, take a little ribbing from my co-workers about being out (and about that other thing; y'all know what I mean.) and get ready for Round 2. I know, more or less, what to expect. It's essentially the same recovery, but on a much faster schedule. I should be fully healed in 4-6 weeks, instead of the 6-8 that this one took. And the initial restrictions will be much less severe.

But that's for another day. In the meantime, I'm going to take heed of the lessons I've already learned. After being cooped up for a while, the last couple of weeks have afforded me a chance to get out and do some things, like a hockey game with my new sweetheart and dinner with friends, both hers and mine. I don't know if I would have appreciated such things as much beforehand. Now, every such experience is special.

Thankfully, there's much more on the horizon, and I'm loving every minute of it -- especially when it comes to her. All I can say is, if you ever feel like you don't appreciate life, check out of it for a while. You'll come around.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And the big date is...

Looks like the "recovery beard" will be
with us a bit longer than originally planned.
Drumroll please...

Dec. 10. That's when my second surgery will be, barring an unexpected sudden opening in my surgeon's schedule.

At first blush, this is disappointing. All along, I had hoped to roll right from surgery No. 1 (the revision of my right hip replacement) into No. 2 (a total replacement of the left for the first time). I've even had my physical therapist kicking my ass in pursuit of this goal. But the doc's schedule doesn't currently allow for anything sooner, so Dec. 10 it is.

I was briefly quite disappointed in this development. But as with many things in life, I found, with a little reflection, that there's good and bad to it. The bad is that it draws this whole thing out longer than I hoped, even stretching my recovery into January just a bit. I had hoped to raise a glass on New Year's Eve to the fact that this process was complete and I could start 2011 with a new slate, health-wise. But this timetable fouls up New Year's (not to mention Christmas) pretty good.

On the other hand ... I think I need the break. There will be enough time in between the recovery from the first surgery and Dec. 10 that I can go back to work for a few weeks, spend some time with my friends, and enjoy Thanksgiving. (And yes, there is a girl involved, and that doesn't hurt, either.) Now that I've had 5 weeks on my butt, I realize that the idea of rolling through for several more weeks straight is daunting, in some ways even a little depressing. Yes, I'd like to get it all over with ASAP, but I'm going a little stir crazy here. Now that I've gone from the walker to the cane, I'm much more mobile, and in the last few days, I have been able to drive and run a few errands and even -- gasp -- go out to dinner and a movie. It's been like a little taste of life, and the thought of a few weeks of that normalcy is really appealing.

And, even though I'm feeling pretty good, the reality is that every little bit of extra strength that my right leg can gain to prepare to carry the load when we do the left is only going to help.

So I'm good with Dec. 10. If all goes according to plan, I get a complete release from the doc on Nov. 19, go back to work the next week, and get ready to roll. Of course, if the phone rings and the doc's office offers up something sooner, I will snap at it. But for now, we have a plan, and I can make other plans accordingly. Thanks to that, I feel a whole lot better already.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sure, challenge your physical therapist, that's a good idea

It only stands to reason that if I got paired up with Dr. Bad Ass for this surgery, I also stumbled upon a physical therapist who is determined to rock my world. And in truth, it's exactly  what I was hoping for.

Everyone jokes that PT actually stands for pain and torture. My experience has been a little different. While there's no question I'm sore, the muscle work has actually felt good. I suspect that because of the way my hips and legs and back have deteriorated over time, none of those muscles in that area are working the way they should. So the stretching feels great. Until it doesn't.

What's surprised me is the intensity of the work, though. I have a core set of exercises: lifting my hips off the table, sliding my heel up to bend my knee, various leg lifts, calf raises, etc. But each day, Stefani, the physical therapist, adds something new -- a new exercise, or a little weight on the leg, or an extra set of reps. None of it is unbearable, and frankly, it keeps it interesting.

Plus, I've been antsy about the timing of this whole recovery. Patience is not a virtue of mine, and when my next appointment with Dr. Bad Ass was set for Nov. 19, I saw the second surgery being pushed into December, and that ain't cool. I mean, if that's what the recovery requires, so be it, but I'm determined to do everything I can to move that date up as much as possible and get on with my life. (Notice I didn't say get back to my life; I expect it to be different and better, not what it was before.) So I casually mentioned to Stefani -- joking, really -- that if she could get me into the next surgery before Thanksgiving, I'd send her flowers. We all laughed, and Mom and I left.

The next day -- only my third day of PT overall, mind you -- as I prepared to do some leg lifts, Stefani strapped on a 2-pound ankle weight. "Wow," I said. "You're not kidding around." She replied: "Hey, you gave me a goal, and I'm VERY goal-oriented."

I say: Bring it.

So I go three days a week, and on the other days, I do six exercises at home. And I'm sore, enough so that I almost went back to the Vicodin, but not quite. One of the complications is that it's hard to work one hip without working both, so my "good" leg -- the one that's doing most of the work right now but needs surgery in its own right -- is feeling the burn, too. That makes it a little harder to get around, but maybe it'll get that leg more ready for post-surgical recovery.

But even if not, I expect no quarter from the physical therapist.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The two-week update, and life at home

My surgery was two weeks ago yesterday, and it would be impossible to overstate how much things have improved since then.
Each day, I gain a little bit more mobility and flexibility, and with that, a small measure of independence. Why is that important? The initial surgery comes with a significant amount of restrictions on how you move and what you do, designed to prevent the fragile joint from slipping out of place. Imagine that you can't bend past about 30 degrees, you can't carry anything because you have two hands on a walker, and you can't so much as get yourself into bed because you've got to strap a pillow between your legs and, thanks to the aforementioned bending restrictions, you can't reach the straps. But I've started physical therapy (more on that later), and although it hurts, I can already tell the benefits.

Everything is a little easier than it has been, from standing to walking to showering to getting in and out of the car to climbing the stairs. All of these are things that have required a tremendous amount of planning and thought. Now, as I get more comfortable with putting weight on the surgically repaired hip socket, each comes a bit more naturally.

There are little things, too: the staples are out, and the incision is healing perfectly. I haven't needed to take pain medication since Monday. And as soon as I gain a bit more lateral movement with the right leg, I can try to drive.

And naturally, there are downsides. My sleeping situation sucks. To avoid too much crossing of the legs, and thus risk of dislocation, I have to sleep on my back, which I hate. And that makes me stiff and sore, and after about six hours, that's about all I can stand. That, combined with the intensity of the physical therapy this week, has meant that I tire pretty easily. For all the improvement, the fact that I still need a walker, and thus have no free hands, makes it impossible to get even as much as a cup of coffee for myself.

But the hardest part, of course, is the feeling that my life is on hold and there's nothing I can do about it. I don't get bored, per se. I've got too much reading material and saved-up TV shows for that. And the days move quickly, believe it or not. My mother and I have a pretty good routine going, and by the time we get through coffee and breakfast and she watches her soaps and goes for a walk and I take a little nap -- and, this week, throw PT in there, too -- the day is wrapping up before we know it. It's more that there are things I wish I could be doing: concerts and sporting events I would go to, friends I would see, drinks I would make, and even the State Fair. I even miss work, at least a little.

I try to remember, though, that this is the path I have to take now to be able to do all those things, and more, without pain and limitations. And to keep it in perspective, I think about how much harder it would have been in the days before text messaging, emails and Facebook. Even though I'm stuck at home, I don't feel isolated or even completely disconnected. Plus, even though I'm missing a ridiculously good spate of weather, I can't imagine a better time, sports-wise, to be cooped up. Between college football, the NFL, playoff baseball, and the start of hockey (this is the year I finally get into it, I swear), there's plenty of distraction out there.

And there are bursts of normalcy. Last night, I finally had my first couple of drinks: A Shiner Bock and a Fat Tire (thanks, Jeremy!) while I ate pizza and watched "Iron Man." That's like a regular guy kind of Friday night. You know, except for the walker.

The glazed look is a combination of Vicodin and gratitude.
And all of this is tolerable only because of the constant wave of encouragement and love I've gotten from so many people. But I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the person who is doing the most, my dear mother. I can't measure the sacrifice she has made, voluntarily, willingly, happily, to be my full-time caretaker. She left her home in Oklahoma (OK, that part isn't really all that hard), and her husband of 41 years, and is doing all of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and driving that there is to be done. She refills my water jug and coffee cup without me asking, and she tolerates all the sports-watching. She makes herself scarce when friends come over. And without going into too much detail, she's had to help me with some personal chores, too, and always without complaining. All she's asked is to be able to DVR a few of her favorite shows and for a little shelf space in the guest bedroom.

I don't know how anyone could go through this recovery without a lot of help. And I don't know what I did to deserve the gold-standard care that I'm getting. But I'm very grateful for it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What the surgeon said (confidently, of course), and the hospital stay

You might expect, say, a lab coat or a stethoscope or even long pants when your surgeon comes to see you in the hospital. But those would be lesser surgeons, those who have to communicate to you that they are serious about their craft. And my guy does not. Because he is, as he would probably be the first to tell you, a 100% Grade A American Medical Bad Ass.

In my experience, all surgeons are cocky, to some extent; it's how they can do what they do without being overwhelmed by the gravity of it, as most of us mere mortals would. But this guy is off the charts, and from what I can tell, it's well-earned, because everyone who works with him says he is the guy who takes the cases that no one else can handle. He rebuilds things that disease, nature and other doctors have destroyed beyond recognition.

I give you this primer so you can fully understand and appreciate the tone of the explanation I received Sunday. I hadn't been awake to see the doc before or after surgery, so this was my first direct assessment from him of how things went. I asked what I perceived to be a simple, typical question: If a normal person's hip function is 100 percent, what can I expect in my right hip once it's recovered from this surgery?

He looks around, rolls his tongue in his mouth and says: "Did I do it?"

I start laughing, because I know what he's suggesting, so I say, "OK, maybe even you have a patient that maxes out at 98 or 99 percent..."

"ONE HUNDRED AND TEN!" he booms.

Well. I'll take that.

He confirmed two things that I thought to be true: The situation had gotten pretty dire in there, but all went extremely well, probably as well as I could have possibly hoped.

First, the bad: remember that the cup that was placed in my hip socket was dangerously out of place. Turns out it had been that way long enough that fresh bone had started to grow over it, which had to be removed to get the cup out and replace it. As he feared, there was lots of damage to the bone socket, and lots of grafting for him to do. And the head of the original implant (the ball joint) did have to be replaced. (Meaning, in the end, all the surgeons I saw agreed exactly on what had to be done. Amazing.)

But, the good is pretty good. The doc adjusted the length of my leg so that there's almost no discrepancy between it and the left, and he figures he can work out the last little bit when he does the other surgery, or with a very modest shoe insert. And he figures that other than a slight bit of rotation outward, my hip will heal at, well, 110 percent.

And the surgery and recovery seem to be going so well that he thinks it possible that he could do the next surgery in about six weeks. That would move up the whole recovery timetable by about a month, and it could mean this whole ordeal is settled by the end of November.

That's a bit ambitious, yet, but what a great motivation for working hard in recovery.

The hospital stay, short as it was, was unlike any I could have imagined. It's a small hospital, dedicated to surgeries by certain physicians, and as a quirk of the scheduling, it was just me and another patient the whole weekend. So the care was simply fantastic. The nurses were attentive, helpful and genuinely pleased with my effort at recovery. And of course, the hallways were clear for lots of walking:

No really, please, take my picture.
Oh, look, tennis balls. How clever.
For now, walking and resting are the two courses of treatment. The walking isn't just any walking. Much of it is about gaining confidence in putting weight on my right foot. But it's also about correcting the steps I take while the bones and muscles heal. I have to make sure to turn my foot inward, and I can hear nurses (and my father) shouting "heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe" with every step I take. So of course, I  look down a lot -- even though everything is definitely looking up.

Oh, and as I said I was determined to do, I watched the Steelers beat the crap out of Tampa, with all the necessary accoutrement. Well, except for a cocktail.

The morphine drip was gone, but 38-13 was a good enough drug.