Monday, September 27, 2010

Two hard months of bad sports on TV

As a sign of growing older, I pay more attention to the passing of the seasons. Growing up in Denmark, you could argue that the seasons are so bland that they don't legitimately influence people's daily routines.

When I moved to America at 19, though, I think the weather outside stayed an afterthought. And this was northern Wisconsin, where the variation in temperature is extreme by most standards. I remember winters that were very cold and summers that were hot, but I don't recall thinking, for instance, "my life is going to get a little better when the snow melts".

Sometime around 30, I started paying attention. Maybe because of the kids, but also because by that age, my job was so demanding that the tiny window of spare time to spend outside became so much more important. I stopped cross country skiing, for example, around age 30, because everything about it took too long for the time that I had available (waxing, driving to the trails etc.) So in a training sense, some seasons are now much better than others, although this is more true in Wisconsin than in Næstved.

These last few years, I have become aware of how the sports on TV influence my day-to-day happiness. Tonight, in the shower, a thought popped into my mind; a thought I remember forming last year, and possibly the year before: TV in October and November is the worst of the year. And let me tell you why.

Winter has skiing on TV. I watch cross country and biathlon and, if nothing else is on, nordic combined. This lasts from December to March, at which point the Diamond League (formerly Golden League) and cycling take off. This peaks in summer, with the Tour and most years an Olympics or track and field worlds. Once every four years, as was the case this year, there is no major international track championship. But I survive and pretend Zurich Weltklasse is a worls championships.

September sees the Vuelta and early October has the cycling worlds.

And then nothing. Not a single endurance sport on TV. What the hell gives? There are cross country meets out there, but they don't make it onto any TV that I have ever owned. There are still triathlons going on in warmer climes, including the Kona Ironman, but their presence on TV is too slight and sporadic for me to follow.

Part of the problem is that the endurance sports are up against formidable competition in the form of soccer in Europe and football in the US. And, gaad, do I hate to watch those sports on TV. Ok, so I dislike wathcing team sports in general, but the "Big 2" particularly annoy me, because of the money and hype involved. What is gayer (in a non-bigot hipster sense, of course): soccer or football? The prize would have to go to a sport, whose biggest star has a girly first name, a very feminine French (and mispronounced) last name, who cries everytime he retires (which is at every press conference).

15 years in northern Wiscosin taught me to tread lightly when it comes to Brett jokes, but now that he is playing for the Vikings, I'm safe.

Brett Favre. Farrrv. Just saying.

Sports on TV in October and November (excluding cycling worlds): you can kiss my ass.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tri Club Championships

10 Triathletes swam 600m, biked 24K and ran 7.5K for yesterday's club championships.

Swim: the water was dangerously cold and we almost decided to cut the swim down to "across-the-lake-and-back" but no one wanted to be the one to declare openly that they were worried about the swim.

I don't know what the water temperature was, but apparently the Danish triathlon federation doesn't allow open water swims in water colder than 15 degrees Celsius (59F) and this was colder! 20 yards into the swim, I panicked. The water was so cold my face hurt. The wetsuit felt so tight that I was afraid of suffocating.

I breaststroked the first half of the swim in dead last. Then, I slowly got used to it and was able to crawl some. However, in the dark water and, presumably, because of the cold, I had no sense of direction and couldn't hold a straight line.

Finished the swim in 8th place (third to last). Rikke, who normally swims as fast as the Girl, swam even more zig-zaggy than me and got way off course. I should mention that the Girl swam very fast and finished 4th or 5th, a few minutes ahead of me.

The Bike: drafting was allowed, so I sprinted up from the swim to see if I could make up some time on the transition. Stig, who normally races a spacecraft-like TT bike had had a flat tire before the race, so he was on his wife's road bike. He was coming out of the transition just 30 seconds before me, and I eventually was able to get onto his wheel. I passed the Girl on the way up to Stig and yelled at her to get on my wheel. She was at her limit at that point, though, and couldn't get on.

Stig and I rode most of the bike leg together, although he drifted back a ways on the last section, which included a lot of hills. Runners like hills on bikes; that's just how it is.

The run went really well, as I caught a couple of people and ended up in third place. All in all, a great race, followed by a nice grill-out. The kids were along and another family also had kids, so they all played together. Good times.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Panic attacks

I should be thankful for what I have. But, like so many other things in life, everything is relative.

Life is good. It really is. We had a great weekend; I went for a run with Natali, initiated by her! She had this loop scoped out that she wanted to run 10 times. I don't know how far it was, maybe 1.5 miles total. She took walking breaks and didn't really want me close by. I ran around her, looking at her form and her walk-run strategy.

Then after our outing, she conned money out of me by doing little paid-for chores around the house. The Girl was out swimming, biking and running (I think she did all three) and I was trying to get the house ready for a friend's vists. I was getting bugged with the Lorax, so I paid Natti good money to take him down to the playground. Then, when she had made her money, she rode her bike the half mile into the old town and browsed the stores for a few hours.

She is doing so well. And yet, the panic is there. I revel in the nostalgia that will ensue once she is gone. Walking home through the old town Friday night, the wind was cool and the sun was setting over the roof tops. The first leaves were starting to fall. I told her "just think that this is the first day of fall and there will never be another first day of fall, when you are 9 and we're walking together like this". Completely sappy; she didn't buy it.

The thing is, I don't know if she is leaving next year or not, and I don't deal with that uncertainty well.

Then I panic about the responsibility. I missed a class meeting for the parents. It was listed online on an intranet I never check. Instead, I got a message from her teacher, recapping the events of the meeting - and reminding me to wrap her books. Which I still haven't done, and that was 2 weeks ago.

Her teeth are very crooked and she's supposed to get called in to see the orthodontist soon. But I don't know if I even want them to start working on her, if she will be back in the US next year. She is very aware of her crooked teeth, maybe because one of her front teeth reaches half way across the other. She wants braces now, and it frustrates me now know what to about it.

All this parenting stuff may sound so simple, like "get a clue" simple. Sometimes patients will describe how hard it is for them to get to appointments, and I generally have zero compassion. But this is kind of the same thing; a world where I have few skills, no experience and no confidence. I should just suck it up, get her that orthodontist appointment, wrap her books, anticipate that next meeting. And show up with homemade brownies.

Not that I am a bad dad. Natali proudly called me the coolest dad in her class; said that all the girls think I'm cool and funny. I had her at 26, which is very young for Denmark, and longterm student types do tend to stay hip. Ahem. No adult would ever call me hip, but these kids are delightfully unrefined.

Work is all right. Just all right. Again, I don't like the uncertainty; I don't know where this fellowship will take me. I don't have a dream job in mind. Working with critically ill or dying patients all the time is taxing. I have a weekly clinic day, where I see two or three new patients, who have been referred with a new blood cancer diagnosis. It's just a few patients, so it's not a lot of work; but the conversations drain me. They come in in profound crises, in packs of four or five, with daughters who are nurses or doctors. Sometimes, I feel like I'm about to pass out when I am done; after a few hard conversations, I collapse in my office with a candy bar for 10 minutes before I can venture out again.

Medicine in Denmark has pros and cons; overall, I'm glad we are eventually moving back to the US. I feel that, here, I'm just a cog in a big machine. The machine generally does a good job, but it's frustrating being unable to make a visible difference. This is compounded by hematology being a specialty, where the work-up for each disease is largely set in stone, even before the patient comes to the clinic.

I used to have this dream, if you can call it that, that I would be the type of hematologist that told patients his cell phone number. I thought I would say "here's my cell phone number; don't abuse it, but if panic sets it, you can use it". In the US, that would work wonders. But here, if someone called me at home on a Saturday, I would have no way of helping. All I could do would be to tell them to call the on-call hematologist or the hospital floor.

I'm happily married to a wonderwoman - who just happens to have the most stressful job in the universe. I don't know how she got duped into running her gargantuan study, but she did, and there's no other option than to tough it out. Tough it out for both of us, that is. We desperately need more time toghether, but none is on the horizon. I still dream about our 5 days in Duluth this summer. Best five days of the year, despite the Girl's miscarriage...

I mean, it could be worse. I'm on call right now, and will get home tomorrow before noon. Then we're running a 20-miler together on the trails. Yes, it could be a lot worse. I guess I had hoped there'd be more family dinners and quiet evenings watching a movie. But the Girl is constantly stressed out about her project; she would think of those things as a waste of time. This sometimes leads to evenings, where I'm a single parent of two, while she either exercises or works in her nearby office.

Oh, how I whine. The 30 people physically nearest to me right now (not counting the nurses) suffer from frightening nothing-is-ever-going-to-be-the-same blood disorders. If I one a loved one became that sick, we would pray and beg to have our blessed lives back.

Everything is fine. Relatively speaking.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blogging blasts from the past

I just got through readng a few months worth of blog posts from the fall of 2006. This turned out to be downright eye-opening. I completely forgot how a friend was going to set me up on a date with this woman I knew from the hospital; I think she was a nurse, or maybe in training to be an NP. I do vaguely remember what she looked like, and that I was disappointed that the date never materialized. Weird; I remember every minor crush and romance up until I met my ex-wife.

In fact, a lot of the stuff that happened in 2006 seems to have been erased from my memory. I describe in my old blog how I had to be the ice-breaker between my ex-wife's family and her lesbian girlfriend at Thanksgiving dinner. I, again, don't remember that at all. I do remember being supremely popular in my ex-wife's family after the news of our divorce broke. Classic Al Gore effect. Reading about that time, I am very happy I got out in one piece.

I did copy one post, whih broke my heart a little:


What can be gleaned from this photo? Well, the setting looks like a low-budget early eighties kitchen counter-top. A few items can be seen, including a bottle of vegetable oil and a bottle of cola. These are of the brand "Great Value", which means the owner is poor, cheap or both. Or maybe he just likes Walmart and its practices.

The attention then turns to a hand pump by the brand Bell. This is another low-budget acquisition. A needle can be seen; the owner is likely a volleyball, soccer or basketball player as well as a biker. He must have a wicked six-pack.

A bisected piece of paper can be seen as well. The piece of paper advertises Levoxyl, a thyroid hormone. Clearly, this guy has few moral principles, since he accepts gifts from drug reps. There is a drawing on the piece of paper by the hands of a 5-year old girl. It depicts her parents. They were meant to hold hands in the picture, but they no longer live together; that's why she cut it in two pieces. She told her dad that she felt is was her mom's fault; that's why the mom piece is wet.

Yes, she tried drowning her mom.

Sometimes I just don't know what to say.

I clearly remember the little drawing. In fact, I think I still have it somewhere. It's easy to forget how traumatic divorces are for kids. And for adults, too, if there are kids involved.

My relationship with my ex-wife has been fairly solid since the break-up, but we continue to argue about the kids and about money. I have blogged about this before, of course. Right now, we are playing a high-stakes game of chicken. We are planning a trip to Disney World in December, since I have a conference in Orlando at that time. I'm working in the ER in Wisconsin in November, so I plan on picking up Andreas, my son, before flying to Orlando. But Natali won't see her mom until the spring, if we don't figure out a way for her to fly via Wisconsin. To figure out a way to make all those tickets work out has been near-impossible. And natually it will be more expensive to have Natali fly via Wisconsin to Orlando than straight to Orlando.

After we put in the hours of searching for tickets, I asked my ex-wife to pay for some of Natali's ticket and she has refused. That was two weeks ago and we haven't communicated since.

I worry about this; my ex has an expectation that I will always be the one responsible for getting the kids back and forth. That I will always come to La Crosse in the summer, because that used to be our home. I have asked her before if this expectation will continue, once we move back, because we will not move to La Crosse. Even if we live in Madison, just two hours from La Crosse, sharing the kids will require tmie and energy spent on both sides and I think the burden should be shouldered equally.

It will probably all work out and the kids will grow up healthy, though slightly scarred and bruised. These worries about the kids may seem so minuscule in a few years.

And that's why I love blogging. I'll read this post in ten years and remember things and thoughts long forgotten. My old blog - now closed for eternity to the public - was so nakedly honest that it attracted a much larger readership, much like the Girl's does blog now. This blog will, hopefully, lead a quiet existence for many years to come.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ten ways to piss me off

1. Say "it's all in the chart". I know it's probably all in the chart; actually, it's not ALL in the chart. Just answer the damn question.

2. Interrupt your sick mother or father, by saying what you think they are trying to say. Especially if we are talking about the serious stuff, like end of life care. Along that line, say "of course you want everything done, right dad? If there's even a little chance you could make it through, wouldn't that be worth a month in the hospital? Dad, are you listening?"

3. Show me your list of questions at the very end of the encounter, when I'm about to do the "ok, I'll see you in a few weeks"-spiel. Lists are fine, but please reveal them up front.

4. Show me any kind of pill. They all look the same to me.

5. Mention names of other doctors at other hospitals, when describing your health odyssey. Most people have an odd sense that they have been seen by the finest physicians in the universe, up to the point of having to endure a half-studied rube such as myself.

6. Say "oh yeah" stupidly, like you've so been there, at the wrong time, interrupting me. Example: "your mom is very sick. It's not really one organ that's sick. It's the way her electrolytes are out of whack; the way she is increasingly confused, and her blood pressure and heart rate are coming up and down; I think she is dying." Daughter says, "oh yeah" after "electrolytes", like she's been eyeballing that potassium for a few days and she figured it looked pretty ominous.

7. Talk about chronic stuff, when I'm asking about your acute illness. It's going to be a long day, when I ask a guy with a fever if he has been coughing, and he talks about his battle with bronchitis in May of 2001. Trick for med students and junior docs: when you see a tangent like the above coming, start examining the patient and ask "does this hurt?", while looking worried. Works every time.

8. Talk while I listen to your heart or lungs. And when I politely say "hold that thought, let me just have a quick listen", say something like "oh yeah! I guess you can't hear anything when I talk. That reminds me of the time..."

9. Breathe in but not out when I listen to your lungs. What is the deal with that? Most people get it, when I say "in and out" pointedly a few times, and yet some persist in holding their breath. I actually breathe along with patients, a la the way you open your mouth when you feed a baby, which makes it even more painful for me.

10. Ask "so what do they think is wrong with mom?". They? What do I look like? Ok, so I look like a balding, fidgety version of this guy, but still.

Otherwise, I'm, pretty easy to get along with.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Perfect day with Natali

The good thing about working as many nights as I do, is that I get a lot of weekdays off. I love those days.

On said days, I get up before anyone else to prepare breakfast; my monster commute has taught my body to be up at 6am, so sleeping till 7 is a luxury for me. On good days, I make pancakes and eggs; yesterday was a good day. We sit as a family and eat until Natali has to go to school.

On days when I'm at work, she bikes to school on her own. I have never been entirely comfortable with this; she goes through the hospital, where the rules of driving and yielding aren't exactly set in stone. So when I'm home, I bike with her to school before biking the Lorax over to his daycare.

I love riding through town in the morning, especially on a fall day like yesterday. I go through the old town, where cars are either discouraged or entirely banned. A few shopkeepers are setting up their wares and delivery trucks are idling on some of the main thoroughfares, but mostly the Lorax and I have city our humming selves. He points at sizeable cars and goes through a mini-seizure of excitement if he spots a semi truck or a bus.

Yesterday, the weather was perfectly crisp and clear. After dropping off the kids, I enjoyed my second breakfast (leftovers from the morning's feast) and took off on a two-hour run in the woods. Got back, looked at some work briefly and took a long nap.

The above describes many of my days off. I generally think of this time in our lives as a "rough patch", every day yearning for a better time. Surely, I will move on to different jobs at different hospitals and will one day wear a sports coat with gold buttons. But I may never have days off like these; crisp, cool fall days with the Girl and the kids in little Næstved.

And yesterday was even better than the average day off. The Girl was headed to Copenhagen for a 5K relay. The Lorax loves trains and came along for the trip, leaving Natti and me to enjoy a father-daughter afternoon evening. A perfect father-daughter evening consists of this:

- Getting her ears pierced. She has been begging to have this done for years, and this was the night. Boy, was she nervous beforehand and, boy, was she glowing and self-important when it was over. All night, I watched her smugly feel her earlobes, just to make sure the little diamond studs were still there.

- Renting Sunny With a Chance of Meatballs. It was ok.

- Eating huge greasy burgers from a little place we haven't gone to before. Eating them in front of the TV. Having so many fries that we didn't even fight over them.

- Presenting her with her new phone. The Girl destroys her phone every so often, so she will inherit Natali's old phone, while Natali gets this new one. This new phone is a smart phone-ish thing that didn't cost very much.

- After an evening like this, she will be eating out of my hand for days.