Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Modern Medicine

I mentioned in earlier blog entries that I strained my left leg calf muscle doing some canyoneering near Moab. It was just a simple jump but an ungraceful landing. It felt like the worst Charlie horse of my life. In retrospect, I really ripped some muscle tissue. To make matters worse, the rest of the vacation involved a lot of driving and walking, especially in Las Vegas. One week later my calf swelled up like a stuffed sausage and stayed that way.

Three and a half weeks later my calf was still swollen but at least the pain had subsided to the point where I could walk normally and I again resumed my three days a week gym routine. I had good mobility and near full strength but the swelling was still there. I decided I should see an orthopedist for an evaluation and scheduled an appointment.

I had x-rays done at the orthopedist’s office. Bones looked good according to the orthopedist. The orthopedist had me do a few movements to demonstrate strength and mobility to verify that nothing else was ripped, like an Achilles tendon, the other optional injury. Injuries to the musculoskeletal system usually have options. Tearing calf muscle tissue is a better option than tearing an Achilles tendon. Just like when I fractured my tibia 14 years ago skiing. The other option there is to tear knee ligaments. Fractured tibia was the better option. Bones heal. Ligaments don’t. The bottom line was time would heal my torn calf muscle. The orthopedist gave me a prescription for a compression sock to squeeze the swelling juices back where they belong, probably to the little beer keg I have going on in my belly area, just where I need it most.

My orthopedist was concerned about blood clots in my leg since muscles, when torn, tend to bleed. I was sent over to the neighboring hospital to have ultrasound done, which included both legs, an added but probably unnecessary bonus. I nice young woman had me lay back on a bed in my underwear while she moved this thing up and down my legs and looked at a screen. She found the swelling mother lode, a 3.5 by 6 cm fluid-filled cavity in my calf muscle. Unfortunately, the nice young woman also found a small clot in a vein in my calf muscle, the technical diagnosis being deep vein thrombosis, DVT for short. Off to the emergency room, ER for short.

I sat around the ER waiting room for awhile then got checked in by a nice lady RN, about my age. By this time, I was getting used to filling out forms because by now I knew all the answers. The nice RN wheeled me in a wheelchair down to Room 21 in the ER. A young guy RN came in and chatted with me and then a less younger guy Physician’s Assistant (PA, in case you’re following along the acronym trail) came in. The PA explained the two schools of treatment available, first there’s the aspirin diet for a week then they check you out again on the ultrasound, and hopefully the clot is not getting bigger and ideally is being absorbed like a bad Star Trek episode. Second treatment option is the blood thinning therapy involving a week of Heparin injections, which they will train you to do, after which you take Warfarin (rat poison) pills for three to six months while they monitor you every day for the correct dosage to make sure you don’t bleed internally like a rat (too much) or clot up (too little). As far as I was concerned, the second option was not an option. The PA said the fact that the clot was in the lower leg was good because lower leg clots rarely go anywhere. The PA said he’d discuss it with the ER doctor hidden behind some curtain somewhere in the ER not to be revealed. The PA came back a few minutes later and said that the ER doctor was down with the aspirin therapy. Whoo hoo! I was out of there.

The next day, I picked up my compression sock, measured and fitted by the pharmacist. Amazingly, within a couple days my left calf looked almost normal in size. Strangely, my belly felt a little tighter.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vacation Days 15, 16, and 17: 4th of July and the Long Road Home

I figured I'd better wrap up the vacation before the memories of it begin to cloud over and fade away.

Day 15 (Sunday) was Independence Day in the good ol' U.S. of A. It was another lazy day in Simi Valley, lifting myself up off the family room sleeper sofa, and pouring a cup of fresh coffee prepared by my dear sister-in-law as she had done over the last several mornings. I was guessing it would be a somewhat bittersweet relief for her when we're all finally gone. Soon the family was all gathering here again, sitting around the patio, engaged in conversation, the conversation somehow a little more subdued on this day after the previous days of boisterous banter and laughter.

My brother-in-law (our Simi Valley host, one of three here), the expert griller, grilled up rack upon rack of baby back ribs, grilling and smoking them slowly. My brother-in-law has the admirable trait of grabbing hold of an interesting hobby or endeavor, focusing on it like a laser beam, and becoming an expert. Grilling is one of his specialties. Needless to say, the ribs turned out fantastic.

Personal fireworks are banned in Simi Valley as they are just about everywhere now. The danger of fire is particularly acute in southern California. We were relegated to watching from afar the fireworks display down at the local high school. The view from my sister and brother-in-law's backyard overlooking Simi Valley is pretty nice and we got view of the fireworks display.

Our planned departure was the next day. We had packed and had most of our gear stowed in the vehicle ready to roll at 5 a.m.

Day 16 (Monday), the observed day-off holiday had us on the road north by 5:15 a.m., not bad for our family. The traffic was light leaving LA, with most folks heading inbound after their long weekend. We were quickly over Tejon Pass on the Grapevine and soon sailing through California's Central Valley punctuated by a couple Starbucks stops. We stopped in Redding at a Carl's Junior then climbing through the mountains around Shasta, Weed, Yreka, up and over Siskiyou Summit. When we reached Roseburg, it was time to stop. We checked into a Best Western that overlooked the South Umpqua River.

I was in Roseburg back in 2006 for a work project and, as a result, I became fond of it, an old logging town now given over to tourism of sorts. It was nice to drive around the town a little. The building I looked at in 2006 was a closed-down tire store being viewed at by United Rentals for expansion of their existing rental facility next door. The building is now a Goodwill store and United Rentals has left town, perhaps a sign of the bad economic times.

Back in 2006, I had flown into Eugene and driven the rest of the way down to Roseburg. On my way back to Eugene to catch my flight, I took the slow way back to explore and look for old teepee burners, those icons of the Pacific Northwest used to burn off sawmill wood waste. Air quality regulations in the 1970s put these burners out of commission but there are still a few around.

This one is located at Drain, Oregon

Photos of Wigwam Burners / TeePee Burners

Day 17: Home. The drive north from Roseburg to Edmonds went quickly. We were home by 2 p.m. It was good to walk in the door and smell the smell of your own home. It was good to be finally home.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Vacation Days 12, 13, and 14: SoCal Family

These three days were devoted to family and doing a few local things. Mixed in was good food and genuine relaxing.

Day 12 (Thursday) was beach day. Most of the days here have been marked by the usual SoCal June gloom of morning and late evening low clouds that burns off in the afternoon, the ebb and flow of the marine layer. Today started bright and sunny, a good omen. The beach destination was Zuma. It was sunny but windy, with whitecaps out on the ocean, and what surf there existed was blown out and choppy. The water was chilly not yet warmed up from a summer of heating. The kids (all cousins) ventured out into the surf. I followed, I couldn't resist the temptation of sand, waves, and salt water. I was the only grownup to test the water. It felt good. My strained calf muscle didn't allow me to venture out with boogie board and fins which was a little disappointing.

On Day 13 (Friday) the whole family went kart racing at MB2 in Thousand Oaks. I had never kart raced before. The karts were electric-powered, quick and nimble on the road course. This was a blast. We did two races of 14 laps each, all family going head to head. My brother-in-law (one of three present) is an expert kart racer and cleaned our clocks. I managed a third place on the second race.

Later in the day, my brother-in-law (the racer) grilled some fantastic tri-tip steaks. Five big steaks was barely enough to feed the crowd.

Below, me pulling a pass on my younger son.

Day 14 (Saturday) we headed out to Malibu Creek State Park for a short hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, an area of coastal California frighteningly close to Los Angeles that has been preserved in a relatively wild state as the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The hike was a short one along Malibu Creek. The terrain and vegetation is very similar to that I explored growing up in Hacienda Heights conjuring fond boyhood ramblings among the Puente Hills. The area has some magnificently large and twisted live oaks. We also saw a rattlesnake who calmly allowed us to admire him from a safe distance as he slowly slithered away.

We ended the day at Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie, a brew pub in Agoura. The food was great and the beer was better.

Later that evening, my nephew (jeez, he's like 28 or something) grilled pizzas, all homemade from scratch, including crust.  Super good!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, Independence Day.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vacation Day 11: Ventura Highway

The main destination for the family today was Magic Mountain.  I wasn't looking forward to Magic Mountain because at this point in my life, these rides just throw my neck out and frankly, they scare the crap out of me.  I had the perfect (and legitimate) excuse to duck out of Magic Mountain with my pulled calf muscle causing some pain, especially with an all day walk around Magic Mountain.

My alternative was to take a drive by myself and do some exploring.  The added incentive was to drive my brother-in-law's Subaru WRX, equipped with some special sticky racing tires.  For most of my driving life I had driven nothing but stick shift, except for the last ten years.  I reacquainted myself with manual shifting by making a drive around the neighborhood, gassing up, and stopping at Starbucks to get a latte for the road.  Like an old glove, it comes back.  Running up and down through the gears is such a joyful driving experience, especially in a responsive car.

I hopped on 101 north with Ventura as my first destination.  Growing up and living in southern California for 35 years, I had never really visited Ventura.  Ventura was always the place you passed through on the way to Santa Barbara, Solvang, and other points north.  But there was history there and a mission I had never visited.  I've been attempting to visit all the old missions in California.  Mission San Buenaventura was on my list to check off.

This being a Wednesday, there was plenty of available parking in downtown Ventura.  Mission San Buenaventura was my first stop on my limited walking tour.  This mission (founded 1782) was the ninth of the 21 missions founded in California, the ninth and last founded during the lifetime of Father Junipero Serra, and one of six that he dedicated.  The mission and related buildings are still owned by the Catholic Church and it still functions as a church and school.  I paid a two dollar donation, picked up a brochure, and went on a self-guided walking tour.  The garden is filled with flowers and exquisitely maintained.  I was startled by a padre who emerged right behind me from the door of their private residence as I was taking pictures.  I wasn't sure what to say, not being Catholic and not particularly enamored with organized religion, I just said "Beautiful place you have here" for which he thanked me.  I walked through the church and sat for a moment praying for the safety of my family at Magic Mountain and a speedy healing of my sprung calf muscle.  Weird, because I never do stuff like that.

My next stop on the walk was Palermo Coffee where I picked up a latte and a brownie.  I always shoot for the local coffee places instead of Starbucks.

A few notable buildings seen downtown were the beaux-arts Ventura City Hall, formerly the Ventura County Courthouse, built in 1912. 

The beaux-arts Bank of Italy building built in 1924.

And the Renaissance revival First National Bank Building built in 1926.

There was much more to see in Ventura, but I had to hit the road and see a few more places.  I drove up the coast to Carpenteria.  I made a couple quick stops overlooking the beaches along the way.  In the cliffs north of Ventura, there is an angular unconformity.  One of the principles of geology is that sedimentary layers are originally laid down horizontally.  Later tectonic forces may tilt and fold the layers.  A period of erosion may occur and then further deposition may occur after that over the tilted layers.  That is the story seen in this photo.

Carpenteria marked my furthest northern point.  I made an about face there and set the GPS for Ojai.  I am careful to obey speed limits (maybe five over) and I genuinely enjoy relaxed, easy driving.  However, when a big Suburban was kissing my tail, I downshifted and wound the WRX through the twisty mountain road and left the lumbering beast behind.  Whoa!  I was having some fun.

I passed Lake Casitas and stopped at a country store advertising the best beef jerky in the world.  I picked up a drink and some beef jerky and I was off again. 

Somewhere along the way I dropped into the valley of the Santa Clara River and through the small town of Santa Paula.  The valley has somehow maintained its agricultural character amid sprawling southern California and probably hasn't changed much for the last 50 years or more. 

I took a few side roads, criss-crossing the valley to see what I could stumble upon.  I found an old church, which turned out to be the Bardsdale United Methodist Church built in 1898 in the carpenter Gothic style, a beautiful old building, well preserved and maintained, and still a functioning church.

I wound up and over another range of hills that folks from the Midwest would call mountains.  Soon I was back again in Simi Valley.  I made one last stop at the Reagan Library, already closed but the grounds were still open.  Never my favorite president (Iran-Contragate, union buster, etc.) but we survived him and he wasn't that bad, really.  RIP Ronny!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Vacation Days 9 and 10: Simi Dog Days

We made it into Simi Valley on Sunday evening (Day 8) and stopped at the In N Out at the Stearns Street exit off the 118.  I looked down at my feet and noticed that my left leg was quite swollen from the knee on down to my feet.  I'd been limping along since I pulled that calf muscle last Wednesday on our canyoneering adventure.  Now it had swollen after a lot of walking the Vegas Strip and hours of driving.  It looked and felt like a stuffed sausage.

Day 9 (Monday) was kind of a do-nothing day to relax and recharge at my wife's sister's house.  The weather was typical southern California June gloom with a strong marine layer keeping things a little gray and cool.

Day 10 (Tuesday) we visited my wife's brother and my two nieces in Newbury Park.  We all then did a driving tour up to Point Mugu, stopping at Missile Park and the big sand dune off of Pacific Coast Highway.  The kids climbed up and ran down the dune a couple times.  We stopped for a late lunch at Hook, Line, & Sinker in Oxnard and ordered up a big family basket of fish & chips, complete with a pint of tartar sauce and a quart of cole slaw.  The fish was angel shark and it was most excellent.

When we got back to the Simi house, my wife's other brother and his family had arrived from North Carolina.  The day ended with a big lasagna dinner.