In Arizona I am learning…

I am in Arizona on a business trip. Even though I have traveled for work before plenty of times, I had never been actually in this state before. I always get a good idea of what a place is like from what people say about it, but I have to tell ya… my mental picture of Arizona and what I have encountered here so far are night and day. Bellow are some of the things that I did not know about Arizona until I actually got here.

Phoenix and Scottsdale are pretty much the same city.

The whole “dry heat” is a myth during monsoon season, right now its not just 115 outside, its also humid.

There is something called a “haboob” which refers to a huge dust storm. nothing like a coworker letting you know on your way out that you should watch out for dust storms and stay indoors if it looks like its going to rain outside… if you breath the stuff in, you can get something called valley fever that can, you guessed it, KILL YOU! that is if you are lucky enough to be able to stay indoors and not already driving when the HUMONGOUS dust cloud moves in.

There is such a thing as a desert garden.

There are people insane enough to want to grow grass in the desert.

Light brown is the color all around… I thought I love that “earth tone” color palette until everything is the same color.

The plants that grow in this climate (not just the cactus) are extremely beautiful and colorful.

The road runner and coyote do live around each other.

Even though a lot of people have lived here for 30+ years, most people still feel like they are “from” somewhere else. I have only found a handful of “locals” so far.

Everything is SUPER spread out.

The only “local” radio station I seem to be able to find is in Spanish.

… more to come

Shop Talk

Most of the companies I have worked for have had 3 letter acronyms. From NDS to AON they all come with their issues, perks and in some cases extremely long hours. For a long time I have wanted to blog about more about IT, but fear of losing my job because of it kept me from doing it. If you have not heard yet, I am now moving to a new company and even though there will be an IT component to the job, I will be working more on the business side of things… so I feel like I am finally free to talk. I have written about IT before, but the issue has always been that even if the topics are common across many companies, someone might take it personal and go running to the president of the company saying… John is posting about “bla, bla, bla on his blog.”

That was a very annoying thing, knowing that people from your work read your blog… your personal blog. It would be a lot different if I was posting on my LinkedIn profile about the company in a negative way, but if I talk about how some aspect of IT is X or Y it should not be taken as talking bad about the company. It has been a weird feeling as the internet seems to get bigger thanks to social media, now family, friends and coworkers join the audience of your blog… what for so long felt like an outlet started to feel like something that I had to filter.

I am glad that chapter of my life is behind me and that I feel like I can now speak freely about the IT world without fear of retribution. I have been away from most of the situations that I want to post about now. The topics will be general enough that it should never be associated with company XYZ or employee 1234. I am very excited about this career move, and more so about being able to finally publish some things that were written years ago, and surprisingly enough are still relevant.

I like My Coffee like I Like My

The lunch in Colombia is at least a two course meal in most households. Breakfast and lunch are the heavy meals and dinner is always smaller. “Sopa y seco” or soup and the dry stuff is what most Colombians will consume today. That is how it was always at my Paternal Grandma’s house. I still enjoy having a soup and a sandwich and kind of miss the big meal during the day rather than later. There is one particularity about how I used to enjoy my soup, a quirk of sorts. I did not mind using the same bowl where the soup was served for the dry part of the meal, but It would have to be rinsed.

This might not be a good idea for an early post because I am already getting hungry. Lets say that the soup was a chicken on the bone soup with potatoes and vegetables. Some people like to get all the liquids out of the way, then go back to the kitchen and load the chicken and vegetables with rice, friend plantains or whatever the rest of the meal includes. My quick has always been that I like most of my meal component separate and I would simply finish everything that was included in the soup and rinse the bowl.

While visiting distant relatives one summer during lunch, I asked to be excused after I finish the soup to rinse my plate before I got the rest of the stuff from the table. Everyone was kind of in a weird shock at first, and then it was explained to me that one of my distant cousins that had passed away (who they had been finding other similarities in personalities with mine) also had that same exact quirk.

This was the first time that I started to think that even though we are only scratching the surface when it comes to genetics, maybe, just maybe weird quirks could be passed down from one generation to another.

I know nothing about genetics, and this is purely speculation; but there are weird things that we seem to acquire from our genes that are not just environmental or learned behavior.

This is where coffee comes along.

You can ask my wife how annoying I can be about coffee. If you make a coffee for me, I don’t care how you make it, I love coffee I will drink it. However, at home, there is a method to my madness. I like the coffee to be somewhat strong and scolding hot. I start by putting sugar in the cup and then pouring coffee 3/4s of the way. Then I like putting cold milk to fill the rest of the up… not cream, but cold milk. That is how I prefer to mix my coffee. My wife often mixes the milk and the coffee and pour the sugar last and of course I cannot tell the difference, but the whole “coffee mixing ritual” is just one of my obsessive compulsive type of quirks.

This is when things get really interesting. My great uncle is not able to do a lot of tasks that require manual dexterity now, so other people are mixing his coffee in the morning. While talking to his Mother in Law who has been helping him with meals, she stars saying how particular my uncle is about mixing his coffee. She then starts explaining the whole process and how its just nuts that he has so many specific things about how he likes his coffee mixed. The very weird part about the whole thing is that when I asked for the details on the process, she starts to describe the very same little quirk of mine as if she saw me doing it in the morning. Weird isn’t it.

What about you guys, have you ever noticed a seemingly weird inherited quirk?

ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a neuro-muscular degenerative disease. Since I was very young I was aware of neuro-muscular disease because one on my Mom’s childhood friends suffered from a non terminal disease. Mercedes was a very inspirational woman because even though she had an extremely difficult time walking and talking, she would go to school, take public transportation and was very happy. Only as an adult do I understand how many valuable lessons my Mom taught me about acceptance by making me always see people with disabilities as not a curiosity but something that I should see as normal. Most people with disabilities don’t want special treatment, they want to be looked as people.

I learned about ALS and how it deteriorates a body reading Tuesdays with Morrie back in 2004. I could have never imagined back then that the tears I shed reading that book would come back in the form of having to face that ugly disease by someone close to me having to deal with it. I am not ready to deal with it at all… I am however doing what I can to help my uncle on his journey.

I guess I have my own form of denial going on, because even though I keep on saying that there is nothing I can do about it, I am doing what I can. I will be taking him to his MRI and other tests this week, I am going with him to one of the best guys on the field, and I plan to being next to him every step of the way.

My wife is an advocate for diabetes. She lives with type II and does everything she can to help with awareness and spread the message. She is also doing great with dealing with her disease and also shares her journey. I have been wrestling with posting about this. My blog over the years has been about many things and not one thing at a time. I do want to become more vocal and make a difference when it comes to helping others with this disease. I want to use my experience with translation and interpreting in the medical field to do so… I want to give hope where there is sometimes so little.

I was very aware that one of the side-effects of “growing up” was having to deal with death and loss. There is also the weddings and births that make your life so happy, but dealing with loss feels unfair in so many levels. On my post when I read Tuesdays with Morrie the first time I wrote

“I am afraid of getting old, death is not really my biggest fear but more like not being able to take care of myself later in life.”

Having to see my uncle go through that same struggle that seemed terrifying is my head tears me apart inside.

It is hard to think of other things at the moment, so many other things seem trivial or insignificant when someone you love faces a terminal illness. Writing has always help me sort out my thoughts, and while I don’t plan on making this a journal of my experiences trying to help my uncle, some of it will spill into here. I guess its simply a part of my life, another chapter that I am not quite ready I want to close. Also don’t be surprised if I get completely goofy in the coming weeks, since that is one of my ways of coping, with humor… I never mean it to be disrespectful, again just my way to cope.

Where do I buy denial?

I still remember the first time I met my great uncle. I was about seven and very eager to meet the family that was in from the big USA for my Great Grandpa’s funeral. When I met my uncle and his wife I fell in love with both of them instantly. They treated me like an adult and wanted to hear what I had to say. She was a teacher and I still had not met a teacher I did not like. For the time they were down in Colombia I was their impromptu tour guide.

When it comes to mentors, my Grandfather is the ultimate one in my life, but my uncle has been also very important to me. He believes in worth ethic and being a provider for your family.

Over the years my uncle and I have had an amazing relationship. We are a lot alike. We have somewhat of the black sheep streak running through both of us. We both like to do what we want with our lives and love to be happy people. He is a lot more animated that I am (those of you that know me, know that I can get quite animated… multiply that by 10 and you have my uncle.) He was one of the only people that when I was not living in Chicago actually made a trip to see me both in Michigan and KC. He even spent a New Years a couple of years ago with Bea and I.

Last time I saw him before I moved back to Chicago I noticed that he was not as quick when he was talking. He has always been a fast talker. I also noticed that he was repeating stories, and that is just not something he ever did before. I talked to his wife about it and said that they should mention that to his PCP.

When I moved back to Chicago I went to visit him every single time I was around his house. Since they always spent weekends shopping I associated him not being home with shopping trips. I talked on the phone with him once in a while, and left messages, but did not think anything of it.

Before Thanksgiving one of my Aunts saw my uncle and said that he was in bad shape and had recently had surgery. I had heard nothing about surgery at all… I did not even know he was sick enough to require any kind of surgery. My Mom then talked to me to go see what was going on, and I went the next day. Sure enough, he had surgery but nobody in our family knew about it. He had kept it from all of us… and I understand why. He has always been a positive force, laughter, energy and he was simply mortified by the though of not moving around properly.

Back then the prognosis seemed to be a pinched nerve due to some pretty invasive arthritis on his neck. The surgery was supposed to free the nerves and make him regain the strength on his right arm which was really getting weaker. The surgery was a “success” but my uncle was not getting better. Initially I thought it was simply that he was not following his physical therapy properly, or that he was expecting results too quickly. However, I started to become worried… to me this seemed neither like a pinched nerve and his speech was getting worse.

Then things got more interesting and his wife had a mild heart attack. She is fine, but I think the shock of the whole thing finally made him realize that he needed help. He finally started letting family help him out, and me to actually go with him to see his surgeon. This is when I started to wish I was equipped with denial.

As his surgeon started to talk “at” him about his surgery and refer him back to a neurologist, my fear started to creep in. The doctor was baffled that what he did had no positive result. I was baffled that he was just not giving me much information other than details on the procedure he did. I started to catch more and more little tidbits about my uncle’s condition. Bilateral was the first, the second was lack of pain. Then it started to hit me that my uncle in a lot of ways his condition was a lot more serious than nerves simply being pressed by his spine. The doctor said something that hit him like a ton of bricks, there is more surgery that we can do; but the surgery comes with no guarantee of making you any better. Go back to your neurologist.

I made the appointment for the neurologist and thanks to a lucky mistake by me, we get in a lot quicker than we should have. My uncle starts to talk about hope for a simple fix, a pill that will fix him… I start to see more muscular deterioration. When we get to the appointment that attending does the initial consultation and checks him out. Everything that he is making my uncle do is making me nervous. I have asked my uncle to do similar things and his test are starting to shape my ideas into actual fears. I knew from his lack of range of motion that his shoulders were not responding to him at all. Also his posture was pretty bad and that part worried me a lot because its more than just the neck when your whole posture is not working.

When I had ear surgery they had to mess with one of the nerves around the eardrum. My doctor told me that I had an unusually long nerve and that he had only moved it aside during the operation but that I should be careful while it was healing and that side effects could mess with the tongue. I was able to talk no problem, but for a while it was almost like the wires for my tongue were crossed… sweet tasted salty. That is when I learned just how sensitive nerves are. Just moving them aside for a procedure could make toothpaste taste like a spoonful of salt.

The attending finished his assessment and we went to another room to see the neurologist. This is when things really became irritating. I am used to doctors really not thinking of people as humans but as “patients.” I am always aware of it, and I am thankful when I have found doctors that actual make human connections when they see you and not just look at the chart to see how they can “fix” you. The doctors started to consult with each other on my uncles condition and I kid you not, almost excited when the young attending identified the same things that the neurologist was. Don’t get me wrong, I understand they are there to learn; but what is happening to my uncle, my blood, its very personal… I think they should compare notes in another room or something… take care of the patient, explain things to him, don’t just “high five” each other over finding the right “hyper-reflex” on an extremity. The doctor continued almost like we were not there… only after I started to ask very direct questions did he actually notice again that humans were involved and they wanted answers. He said the word I dreaded most… degenerative disease… he wants to run more test, he won’t tell me what it is because he knows I will be looking it up.

Now I am the point where I could use a little denial. I don’t want to come to conclusions just yet, but my brain is already connecting many of the dots… heck it connected them long ago and I just did not want to share it with anyone.

I have sat with him often this last month, and I see in his eyes a scared child… looking for a word of hope… looking for comfort that I desperately want to provide… looking for answers that I simply don’t have.

All I have been able to say to him is that no matter what, he is not alone and I will be there for him. I will be there to help him in any way I can.

Go to top