Sunday, April 19, 2015

Title: “Look, Ma! BOTH hands!"

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Sunday April 19, 2015
Sunny and Sight Haze 79°F/26°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
Something New
  On Tuesday, I was finally allowed to take my right arm out of its sling. At first it felt that my newly-repaired right wing would simply fall off my shoulder onto the floor. “Just let it dangle for a few minutes. Lean over the desk or counter top and wiggle your hips so the arm moves,” Ronny advised me. “Do this about five or six times a day. It’s still healing, so, go easy.” That was Tuesday. This morning, I was finally able to put my shirt on by myself and use both hands to pull up my shorts. Progress is Our Most Important Product, went GE’s old motto. A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step, said Mao Tse Tung as he set out on The Long March. For me, the road back began with a wiggling of the fingers on my right hand. Now, my right arm is again helping my left arm to pull my pants up.
  Ronnie Escudero is the Physician’s Assistant to my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jeff Sodl. He did my pre-op evaluation, assisted in the surgery, and checked me out two weeks after the operation. I’ll see him again in about three weeks. That’s not to say that the top guy hasn’t spent a lot of time with me, but I was unconscious for most of it. One of my last recollections I had before the anesthesiologist put me under was Dr. Sodl, Magic Marker in hand, asking me which shoulder he was supposed to operate on. I confirmed that it was my RIGHT shoulder and, he began to scribble on it. “There,” he exclaimed. “’X’ marks the spot with MY initials, so that I know I’ll get it right.” Gratefully, I slipped into unconsciousness. Sure enough. When I came to in the recovery room a few hours later, my right arm was in a big sling brace, and everyone around me was talking at once. “Can you wiggle your fingers?” someone asked. I wiggled my fingers. “Can you feel this?” somebody else asked as they started poking my arm. I nodded in the affirmative. Someone else pushed a button attached to a plastic tube into my left hand. “Here’s your morphine drip,” said another voice. “If you feel any pain, push the button.” Good to have it handy, but I have yet to experience anything beyond a mild discomfort during the whole process.
  Since, I’m not allowed to drive for at least the next month, I’m spending a lot of time at home, reading or writing for my blog or website, or yakking with friends via Skype or chatting it up on Facebook. Quite a bit of TV time, too.  Last weekend, I watched Harrison Ford chasing “the one-armed man” in the re-make of “The Fugitive,” and startled my poodle when I laughed out loud at the updated villain with his modern prosthetic arm, which only served to confuse our hero, Dr. Kimball.
  One item that crossed my desktop this morning was an email from one of my high school classmates, Judi Staib Harrison. (Our class held its 55th Anniversary Reunion in 2013, if that gives you an idea of just how far back we go together). It was another of Judi’s lists of what to expect when you get old, specifically, Perks of reaching 60 or being over 70 and heading towards 80: Now, I’m not going to burden you with the whole list, but, here are some that I especially like:
·        In a hostage situation, you are likely to be released first.
·        No one expects you to run--anywhere.
·        There is nothing left to learn the hard way.
·        Things you buy now won't wear out.
·        You can live without sex, but not your glasses.
·        You get into heated arguments about pension plans.
·        You don’t think of speed limits as a challenge, but as a goal.
·        Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
·        Secrets are safe with your friends, because they can't remember them either.
·        Most importantly, never, ever, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night. 
Oh, and lest we forget. On this Day in History:
1775 – Almanac says - American Revolution begins - Lexington Common, shot "heard round the world!” This, in spite of Longfellow’s account:
“Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year."

©Mike Botula 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“Hey! So Let Me Tell Ya About My Operation! Oy Vay!"

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Wednesday April 15, 2015
Brilliant Sunshine, Windy and Warmer 83°F/22°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
  Every time someone asks me how my arm surgery is coming along, I’m reminded of Lyndon 
LBJ's Operation
Johnson, our most socially indelicate President, who is not only remembered for his part in the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the War on Poverty but also for showing the world the scar from his gall bladder surgery. So, in the spirit of our 37th President, let me bring you up to date.
  After a couple of postponements and almost a year of procrastination, I checked into the hospital at the end of March, and checked out two days later with my right arm in a sling brace and a shiny new titanium joint installed in my shoulder. Dr. Jeff Sodl and his team had done some amazing work on me. And, so, after two weeks of being trussed like an extra in The Mummy Returns, I went 
OR Bound!
in for my two-week post-op checkup. First, the X-ray tech helped me out of the sling, and for a moment it felt like my arm would fall off on to the floor. But, it didn’t and it stayed attached while he took the x-rays. Then an LVN peeled away the bandages to remove the sutures. “Hmmm!” He said after a moment, “I don’t see any stitches or staples.” That’s when I showed off the fact that I really had read all the paperwork that I had been given before the operation.  “I think the doctor used Krazy Glue,” I said, launching into a history of that ubiquitous adhesive. “That’s what he did,” said the LVN. “He put you back together with a couple of screws and Krazy Glue!” “I’m OK with that,” I said. “In a world where they make repairs aboard the International Space Station with Duct Tape, I’m OK with Krazy Glue and a couple of screws.”
  Then, the Physician’s Assistant, Randy, checked it out. “Looks good. No sign of infection. Healing nicely. You’re good to go.” He showed me a couple of limbering-up exercises and warned me for the umpteenth time not to pick
Something New Added
up anything heavier than a hummingbird feather until the doctor gives the final clearance. He removed the pad and several straps that had kept my arm immobilized at my side and he sent me home to burn the shirt I had been wearing for two weeks and take a long, warm sudsy shower. Then he made another appointment for 30 days hence, warned me again about putting any weight on my arm and reminded me: no driving for the next month. The long, warm shower was an assignment that I tended to right after I returned from Lola’s morning walk.
   Later, as my daughter helped me on with a fresh shirt, I commented on the large, angry bruises on my side, chest and right arm. I looked like a sailor who had just survived a tavern brawl with a herd of stevedores.  Dana, my daughter, the veterinary
Thanks Dr. Sodl!
trauma center nurse, chuckled and said, “Orthopedic surgery can be rough, dad. It takes a lot of leverage to do what they did.” When she started regaling me with some of her experiences rebuilding hips, legs and other repairs on large animals, I got the visual. In a few weeks I’ll meet up with George, the physical therapist and start getting ready to throw out the first pitch of the 2016 season, and thus write the finale to a stupid maneuver of mine that dates back to my old Radio Days 42 years ago.
   When asked about it, I usually brush it off with a remark like “old sports mishap,” or “old baseball injury.” Actually, I was batting in a pre-game exhibition event pitting the KMPC disk jockeys against the wives or girlfriends of the California Angels baseball team. Saundra Willis, who was brand new to the station’s publicity department, persuaded me to bat as the “Designated Hitter,” which was a new position in the American League that year-1973. Since the great Nolan Ryan was pitching for the Angels then, I as the temporary DH for that game would be actually taking my idol’s place in the line-up. I was flattered. Saundra hooked me on the idea, and I agreed to go along with the gag. The night of the game, the jocks dressed up in major league baseball uniforms with the KMPC logo. Long time listeners to the station will remember the names: Dick Whittinghill, Geoff Edwards, Wink Martindale, Gary Owens, Roger Carroll, Johnny Magnus, Sonny Melendrez, newsman Dave De Soto and yours truly as Designated Hitter. “Where’s my uniform,” I asked Saundra. “Here it is. You get to wear the gorilla suit!” I balked, but she was a smooth talker and, after she batted her eyes a few times and patted me on the head, I suited up. At the appointed moment, I as DH with bat in hand bounded to the batter’s box.
"Now Coming to Bat, Mike Botula!"
Nolan Ryan’s wife lobbed a huge beach ball right over home plate. Obviously she had learned a thing or two from her husband. “S-T-E-E-R-I-I-K-E!” the umpire called, and the catcher picked up the ball and carried it back to the mound. Saundra, who was now playing the role of batting coach, approached me at the plate and we huddled. “You were supposed to hit the ball,” she said. “I couldn’t even see the goddam thing because of the gorilla mask,” I snapped. She adjusted my mask and as she stepped away, she instructed me, “You’ve got to hit it this time!” Dick Enberg’s voice came over the PA speaker. “One strike. Designated Hitter is waving the bat. Here’s the pitch!”  (Long pause) “A solid hit! Oh, my! Looks like he’ll go for four.” I swung the bat with everything I had. When I connected, the beach ball exploded in a cloud of white powder showering me, the gorilla suit, the catcher and Saundra with billows of talcum powder. In the stands, fans cheered me as I rounded third and headed for home. It was my personal “great moment in sports.”
   Only after the game did I feel the sharp pain in my right shoulder. I had seriously pulled a shoulder muscle when I over swung on that first pitch.  Years passed, the shoulder injury flared up from time to time, but it never really caused a problem until after I retired and old age began to catch up with me. I was eventually diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis which aggravated the old simian injury to my shoulder. By the time Dr. Sodl read my MRI and made his diagnosis, I was eligible for a complete shoulder joint replacement, the whole enchilada. So far we’re doing well on the comeback trail, but my baseball days are history.

© By Mike Botula 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When the Pope Lived Right Up the Street From Me!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Wednesday April 8, 2015
Partly Sunny 47°F/8°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
   To a little Methodist kid trundling off to Sunday school every week, and then stifling yawns all through Reverend Brown’s Sunday sermon afterwards, the Pope, somehow doesn’t loom very large in my childhood memories. He was a big deal to my Catholic cousins, but me? Nada! Let’s just say that Papal Admiration was for me, an acquired taste.
The "Pope" and I
About the only time I ever thought about the Pope was when he died. My old aunts would cry and wail “IL PAPA!” And his picture would be in all the papers with big, black headlines reading POPE DIES! Then, a month later the newsreels would show pictures of smoke coming out of a stove pipe and all the crying would stop and a new guy with a pointy hat would wave to everybody from the balcony. In 1978, this happened twice in a month’s time and when the smoke over the Sistine Chapel had cleared we had another new Papa. A Polish Pope – Karol Józef Wojtyła aka Pope John Paul II.
  John Paul II turned out to be a terrific people person, a real rock star among some very serious-looking folks, and his image was everywhere. People Magazine even ran a picture of him in ski gear, fresh off an Alpine slope.  Karol Józef Wojtyła, aka Pope John Paul II, was everywhere. John Paul II traveled around the world and millions flocked to his masses. Instead of his own jumbo jet like Air Force One, the Holy Father hitched a ride with Alitalia.And, it didn’t take very long before my neighbor up the street from me, Gene Graytak, started hearing from his friends and neighbors how much he resembled the new Pope.
The Real Pope John Paul II

  Since our kids went to the same school  together, my wife Donna and I ran into Gene and his wife Dottie occasionally at school functions, or since we all shopped at the market nearby, I’d run into him occasionally at the store. Then, one year as Thanksgiving approached and preparations for the neighborhood kids’ annual Gershon Place Thanksgiving Day Parade were well underway, my kids informed me that this year’s parade would have as its Grand Marshall, the POPE!
  From a small neighborhood event with some brave parents pulling their little kids dressed up as pilgrims and Indians down the street in their Radio Flyers on Thanksgiving morning, the neighborhood kids had gone big time with an equestrian team-a neighbor who had horses, real parade floats built especially for the occasion by a team of dedicated dads, and the marching band from nearby Foothill High School. This year, they had a Grand Marshal. The Pope! Sure enough! Come Thanksgiving Morning, all of the neighbors gathered on their front lawn to watch the parade, enjoy the music and catch a glimpse of “The Pope.” And, “the Pope of Gershon Place” couldn’t have gotten a louder or warmer reception if the parade had been led by Karol Woytila himself.
So, who's the real Pope?
Gene later told me that, with the encouragement of Dottie and his family, he had photos taken wearing the appropriate costumes, and shopped himself around to some agencies that specialized in representing celebrity lookalikes. It didn’t take long for his new career to take off. Gene had several sets of papal garments custom tailored for him. And, his public demeanor was always quite dignified and warm. As he also told me, “no pratfalls. No pies in the face. I always remember who I’m representing.” After he became famous, he was no longer “Gene,” or “Mr. Graytak” to anyone among his neighbors. He became the man he portrayed, the Pope. Gene Graytak was now, “Pope Gene,” or “Your Holiness,” said with a straight face, by the way. Shaking hands with Gene in his papal garb was the closest most of our friends and neighbors would ever get to shaking hands with the real Pope. And, no one who ever saw him during his pontifical period would guess that the new pope was a retired real estate broker.
  Then, one night in 1982, during her appearance on Saturday Night Live, singer Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and caused a huge uproar. As we watched her on our TV, my wife turned to me with, “Wow! I wonder if Gene Graytak saw THIS!” And, then I realized that What’s-her-name had just insulted our whole neighborhood! My friends and neighbors broke out the torches and pitchforks and waited for the other shoe to fall. We didn’t have long to wait. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord! And, the Lord took his full measure.
Sinead's Dastardly Deed!
neighbors would not just see this as a cheap publicity stunt aimed at the far-away Pope, but they would really see Sinead O’Connor was dissing OUR FRIEND! OUR NEIGHBOR! Yeah! Sinead.
  A night or two after Sinead O’Connor’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, I stayed up to watch the Tonight Show. As he came out of the commercial break, Johnny Carson opened the segment talking about the weekend incident with Sinead O’Connor and led into a brief clip of O’Connor tearing up the pope’s picture. “Fine,” I thought, “now he’ll have something to talk about with his next guest.” And, guess who the next guest turned out to be? Right! It was my good neighbor, Gene Graytak, who politely thanked Johnny for having him on his show. Now, enough time has passed that I don’t remember exactly what was said, but Carson never addressed his guest by his title or name. He let the visual of “the Pope” carry the moment. And, when he got to the place where the pope’s picture was torn, Carson asked Gene, “Did that upset you, sir? Did it make you MAD.” Gene smiled and said, “I never get mad over things like this. They don’t bother me. And, besides I have a picture of my own.” With that, Carson’s guest/Pope displayed a big picture of Sinead O’Connor, and with a flourish tore it right down the middle. The audience roared.
  Gene really enjoyed his new role in life. He was always very mindful of the stature of the person he was portraying. “The people love Pope John Paul, and it shows in the way people react to me when I appear as the Pope.” And he added, “I guess I’ll have a career as long as the Pope is around.”
  I moved off the block a few years later and gradually lost touch with the Pope and my other friends and neighbors. In 2005 when I was in Rome for the first time, Mike and Laura and I walked past the hospital where John Paul II was fighting his last battle. All of Rome was preparing for another changing of the guard at the Vatican, which would take place two weeks later. But, all I could think of at that moment was, I guess our neighbor, Gene, will be retiring now.
© Mike Botula 2015

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Look! It’s the Easter Bunny! Is He Packin’?

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Easter Sunday 2015 – April 5th Just Before Dawn
Cloudy 59°F/15°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
Buongiorno, Buona Pascua!

Easter Sunrise in California
 If I had still been in Rome when I woke up this morning, I think I would have gone to Piazza San Pietro and listened along with a couple of hundred thousand other folks to Pope Francis deliver his Easter message in person. But then, I would also have seen how hard it was raining and just turned on the TV and watched it that way. But, since I’m not in Rome, I’ll have to settle for watching the Easter sunrise over Santiago and Modjeska Peak – Old Saddleback from my patioBut, that’s not too shabby a deal if you've ever seen sunrise over Old Saddleback.
  So, here I am, sipping my coffee and wiggling my fingers, counting my blessings and waiting for the sun to come up. Today is “T plus 5 and counting.” Five days since Dr. Sodl and his squad of happy elves installed my new titanium and plastic right shoulder joint in the very first major surgery of my long life.
Having said that…I’m not going to bore you with a lot of detail about “my operation.” I’ll do something at greater length in the near future when I have some digital images to share with you. Since my typing style remains a bit cramped, I’ll be brief. Shoulder arthroplasty is a fascinating procedure and I’m pleased at the way Dr. Sodl and his surgical gnomes have worked their magic. No pain. Wiggling my fingers. Just DON’T come up behind me and tap me on my shoulder to get my attention.
   Today in History: 1974 - Then the tallest building, the World Trade Center opens in NYC (110 stories). Yesterday, April 4th 1968 was the 47th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis. Today, the big headlines deal with California’s drought and Jihad.
Again. Happy Easter! Buona Pascua!   

© By Mike Botula 2015