Monthly Archives: February 2011

I Got Schooled … and Other Stuff


Now Playing: Kick Drum Heart, by The Avett Brothers. “There’s nothing like finding gold within the rocks hard and cold. I’m so surprised to find more; Always surprised to find more.”

I’m not really sure why I’m often so hostile to my sons’ schools. I really liked school when I was growing up. I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to end, because we normally didn’t go anywhere and I got bored. I liked the vast majority of my teachers, even Mr. Johnson, the algebra teacher who scared a lot of kids over the years at Halifax County Senior High School. And even the ones I didn’t like, I got along with – with the possible exception of Mr. Robinson, the biology teacher for half a semester (and that’s a story for another day).

But I never much cared for principals I’ve known, especially assistant principals. Didn’t like ’em, didn’t respect ’em, didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to them except when I really had to.

My youngest son tells me his middle school got a new assistant principal who started a new policy – now all the administrators walk the halls with a bullhorn, nitpicking kids during class changes and the like. (And don’t even get me started on the stupid uniform policy there. I’ll just say conformity sucks and leave it at that.)

Anyway, Wednesday we got a letter addressed to the parents of my older son, Austin. I opened it to see a tome authored by Ms. Bimson, the school’s aptly named (insert joke here) dropout-prevention counselor. It informed me that, because of Austin’s lack of progress in three of his four courses, she was going to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles that he shouldn’t be granted a drivers license.

Well, this was news to me. And I expect, to every other person in the school. Austin not only is a really good student, he’d just received an award last week for superior performance last semester.

Blood-pressure rising, I rushed to phone to call Ms. Bimson, who unwittingly answered. I explained who I was and why I’d call, volume rising with every word. She offered to check on it – “I think you’d better,” I said – and came back to cheerfully tell me that there had been a mistake and to just throw the letter away.

“That’s not good enough,” I roared. “What about the DMV?”

“Oh, we haven’t sent the letter yet, we always give parents a chance to respond.” The letter gave us three whole days.

“What if for some reason the letter hadn’t been delivered?” I said. “This good kid would have been damaged for nothing.” Keep in mind that to this point, she’d never even said she was sorry.

“Oh, in that case, I would have called the DMV and told them to fix it.” She doesn’t know the DMV very well, does she? Can you imagine just calling the DMV and having anything straightened out? Really.

She finally offered a weak apology: “I know how you feel,” she added.

“No. You don’t. Obviously,” I countered. And I wasn’t finished.

I told her they should at least double-check things that would have such dire consequences and kept on preaching to her, my volume continuing to rise. Finally, I asked the big question: “Who’s your supervisor?”

It was Mrs. Burns, the principal, she said, and I was welcome to call.

I hung up and did. She wasn’t in, the office said, but I was welcome to leave a voice mail. So I did.

I should add here that I’d never met Mrs. Burns, but I’d often made fun of her on the automated messages that come nearly every Sunday telling us about upcoming events. She didn’t have the greatest delivery, as many folks don’t when they’re speaking from a script. I have to admit I thought she sounded kind of unintelligent.

This all happened about 1 p.m. I spent the rest of the afternoon alternately stewing and calming down. When it passed 5 o’clock, I got really resentful that Mrs. Burns had blown off my call. But truth to tell, I wasn’t surprised.

All of which means I did get surprised later that afternoon, about 5:55, when the phone rang. It was Mrs. Burns.

I didn’t even get a chance to get wound up. Because she already was. She apologized profusely to me and to Austin and I could hear the pain in her voice. “I can only imagine how you felt,” she said – not “I know how you felt,” but “I can only imagine.” That little bit made an impression.

She’d just gotten back to school to check her messages and she wanted to call immediately to let me know she was on it. She planned to investigate and do whatever she could to make sure it didn’t happen again.

I believe her. You can’t fake that stuff.

And believe me, I learned a message, too. I’m 53, and I thought I stopped judging people, particularly by the way they spoke, a long time ago. I don’t know if Mrs. Burns is the greatest principal, but I know one thing. She cares about the kids and the wrongs done them.

I appreciate that more than she’ll ever know.

Here’s the … and Other Stuff.

Facebook notified me today of two interesting birthdays.

One was of my old junior-high school friend, Jim. We met when junior high started and became friends. Though we’d drift apart in high school when we were in different circles, we were always friendly.  I’m pretty sure I had my first sleepover at Jim’s house. He had a drum set that he let me bang on, and it seems like he had some other cool stuff, too. (His dad was a doctor.) But most of all, I remember his mom fixing us Welsh rarebit for breakfast (she used 7-Up instead of beer to give it bubbles, by the way). It was the first and only time I had it. I can’t say I loved it, but I’ve always remembered it.

The other birthday was of my friend Stephanie Dujsik Benedict, whom I knew in Jacksonville. I met Steph through her now-husband, R.D., who worked at The Daily News with me. A finer couple I cannot cite. They were loads of fun, and I miss them terribly. I haven’t seen them in 17 years now, but R.D. and Steph, rest assured I still care about you guys. As does Karen.

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Dogged by Cat Scans


The following is a guest rant by the lovely and talented Karen Murray, my wise and wonderful wife. I’m sure you’re going to like it:

I’ll admit it; I’m a cat person. But despite being owned by three felines, I’ve recently discovered another type of cat that I’d just as soon avoid. And this one has quite a tale.

I’ll try to make this simple, but it’s far from simple. The first doctor I saw called it “complicated” and “complex.” That was an understatement.

On January 13, I was teaching a class for new Realtors and experienced what I thought might be a hot flash. Several women at the office took pleasure in teasing me about the sweaty misery that I was about to experience. I accepted it as a rite of passage and didn’t think about it again, until later that night when I woke up on the couch with a dull, steady pain on the lower left side of my chest. The next morning when I woke up, it was still there.

Heart disease is a biggie in my family. My dad died of a heart attack at 56; my mom had her first of three heart attacks at 54. So chest pain and sweating in the same day sent up major red flags.

I called my primary care physician, who could not see me until the following Monday. By then, the pain had long subsided and I hadn’t had any more hot flashes. But the appointment was made, so I figured I’d go with it.

A chest X-ray done in the office showed nothing on the left, but a weird area on my right lung. The doc didn’t seem concerned, and the x-ray was sent out for further review by a radiologist. I had almost forgotten about it when I received a call from the doctor’s office a week later.

The radiologist “saw something” on my x-ray and ordered a chest CT (“cat”) scan for further investigation. Panic began to set in, but I figured they were covering their bases. Of everything in my family medical history, the only lung issues were my maternal grandfather, who was a heavy smoker.

The technician said that my CT scan would be read that evening and the results faxed to my doctor. I didn’t even have time to pester them before my phone rang the next morning.

Let me take a brief detour to talk about what they will – and mostly won’t – tell you over the phone. We have a million ways to communicate with each other today, but getting anything out of the nurse-like person (Arthur calls them waitresses) is like playing Twenty Questions. I vote for a 140-character, cut-to-the-chase, Twitter-like summary. Just tell me I’m not dying. If the test was for something in particular, tell me if it was positive or negative. Tell me if you’re really going to tell me more when I come in, or it’s just an easy way to bill me $150 plus a co-pay. And for Pete’s sake, don’t scare the crap out of me because you are too scared of your boss to ask him if you can give me a summary.

No, she couldn’t tell me more over the phone. It was complicated. I needed to come in.

OK, kids, get a pencil.

The “something” on my lung was because it was being “squeezed” by my colon which is penetrating my chest cavity through a hernia (aka hole) in my diaphragm. Probably there since birth. No immediate danger, but good chance it will need to be fixed so they can do routine colonoscopies.

I also have gallstones. So do 80 percent of people, but only 20 percent ever have problems.

I also have two, maybe three lesions on my liver. Probably hemangiomas, which are ugly tangled masses of blood vessels that are generally harmless and probably there from birth. But if not, it could be something a whole lot worse. Scary.

Next step: gastroenterologist who specializes in livers. He (and his physician assistant) make their best guess that the liver lesions are hemangiomas, but we need to be sure. More blood work to rule our liver tumors, an MRI, a referral to a surgeon to investigate the hole in my diaphragm which is causing my colon to take a detour.

Fast forward to MRI. Couldn’t do it. Most horrible, entombing device of torture I’ve ever been near. And that was even before they turned on the pounding. Despite the valiant efforts of Narciso, my handsome MRI tech, it was not going to happen for this gal. If you’ve never had one, climb into the middle of one of those playground slide tubes at Chick-Fil-A, in the dark and then ask someone to operate a jack hammer next to it, while you lay perfectly still for 45 minutes. We quickly regrouped and substituted a more detailed level CT scan.

More results, or lack of, the next morning. The doctor needed to me come in, next week. No, she couldn’t tell me more. Yes, he likes to be very thorough. After much insistence, she resigned and said “If you had cancer, honey, he’d be seeing you this afternoon.” So I figured I was probably okay and waited some more.

Yesterday I went to my endocrinologist, a charming Indian man with a warm sense of humor and a caring bedside manner. This was a make-up appointment from one that had to be cancelled earlier in the week my problems began because of a snow and ice storm. When I told him about my recent medical adventures, he called up all of my scans and results in his laptop and proceeded to explain them to me. There it was, the Karen Show. I saw parts of me I’ve never seen before, and not because I’ve learned a new yoga pose. It started making sense.

My rerouted colon looks like an anaconda is living in my chest, but it’s not bothering me. My liver has two hemangiomas, and a benign cyst. I have no pain. I have no symptoms. Not sexy, but far from fatal.

This morning I went back to the gastroenterologist for “my results.” We decided not to tell him about my “preview” with my endocrinologist yesterday. After waiting for 1 hour and 10 minutes past my exam time, the doc finally comes in, gives me a five-minute summary and hurries me out. (I guess he must have had a lunch appointment.) We both agreed that he was “dismissive,” but it was relieving to know that I was no longer a concern.

So my minor chest pain (that ended up being nothing) sent a team of physicians and other medical professionals on a Magic School Bus journey through my abdomen, and sent us on an emotional rollercoaster that came close to causing me to have a heart attack that I wasn’t having in the first place.

I’m not sure that medical technology is such a good thing. Do I really need to know everything that is going on inside of me? In this case, the majority of what I found out may have never caused me a problem. I would have discovered the hernia when it came time to have my first colonoscopy.

After eight medical appointments and procedures in five weeks, I get to take two weeks off before I see the surgeon. Then hopefully the surgery can wait until at least the summer. Then I get to have yet another CT scan to make sure my liver still looks the same.

Another cat to dog me. And they still won’t be able to tell me anything over the phone.

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