I’m not a dad, but I make dad noises

Morning begins with curse words. I slide myself to the edge of the bed. I draw circles around both knees with prescription lidocaine gel. I rub it into both knees until the skin is warm.

Next, the girding begins.

I pull on compression socks up to the knees.

I strap on a brace on the left knee, still recovering from surgery to remove two bits of torn meniscus last month.

I pull on a compression sleeve on the right knee, which just has the usual amount of arthritic pain.

Then I stand.

I am not a dad, but I make dad noises.

I’m uncertain at first, timid.

Sometimes the tendons in the left knee are so tight I can’t get full extension.

Sometimes I wobble and sit back down.

Eventually, I find enough support to walk to the bathroom.

I take small, mincing steps. There are no bold strides in these legs now.

I worry there never will be again.

I am in physical therapy.

I do exercises to loosen and strengthen the atrophied legs.

The cartilage tear in the left knee came in late June, but it only exacerbated the degenerative arthritis condition in both knees.

I can’t remember the last time I took a step with confidence.

I am obese.

That gives others cart blanche to judge me, to tell me what’s wrong, to offer their unsolicited solutions, or simply to scold.

I could explain that obesity is one of many symptoms of trauma. I work on it actively with my doctor and behavioral therapist.

But why bother?

Being fat is a sin in country where millions of people are fat. I have arthritis. I must deserve it.

It’s like going to the funeral of someone who died of cancer and asking, “Did she smoke?” If so, is the grief any less?

I wrote about my downtrodden mood a while back. A reader wrote in to say she didn’t contribute to my surgery fund to hear me say “I can’t.” Or it was something to that affect. I deleted the comment.

I never promised anyone who donated to my surgery that I wouldn’t struggle, that I wouldn’t have bad days, and that I wouldn’t write about them.

I only promised I would get their surgery and do my very best to become a good teacher in whatever community hires me. If the expression of pain and sadness is a disappointment, I apologize for nothing.

These paragraphs are always raw emotion.

If the message was meant to be a “ha, ha” poke, a lame attempt at inspiration, or some other uplifting note encased in sardonic wool, it hit me exactly the wrong way at precisely the wrong time.

The fact is I hurt.

I hurt a lot.

And it’s not just the knees.

I’m humbled by using a walker. I shouldn’t be. There’s no shame in using tools you need to get where you need to go. Where I need to go is class so I can finish my degree and become a teacher.

I struggle with my obesity.

I hate it. I hate that I didn’t recognize the connection between my psychology and my eating habits years earlier when it would have been easier to build new schema to negotiate the world.

The thing that frustrates me most often about obesity is the idea that people think it’s tough love when they tell me how fat I am.

Do they think I did not notice? Or perhaps they thought I was proud of my body that barely works and hurts all the time.

I don’t know.

All I ask of people is that they respect each other’s dignity. If I want to talk about my health, I will. I’ll reach out. I’ll confide. It’s my call.

I’ve got a doctor. I’ve got a therapist. If I am not progressing at a rate that satisfies others, well, how do you think I feel?

There are not magic solutions.

I get it. Some people try a diet and, boom, they lose a bunch of weight and they feel great. They want to pass it on.

A couple of things: No solution is universal. If it was, pharmaceutical and other medical companies would have bought up the rights to these programs decades ago and they’d be prescribed by doctors.

I tried a program recommended by friends. I gained weight. I dumped it and went back to what I was doing: cutting calories, eating better foods.

Secondly, these programs are often expensive. I’m living off unemployment and that ends this week. After that, who knows what I’ll do. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be signing up for an expensive commercial diet plan.

If this reads a little angry, it should. I am angry.

I’m angry with myself.

When struggling, the tendency is to look back and see every mistake we made and blame ourselves for not recognizing the dangers, not planning better, not having a back-up plan, and so on.

I know that’s fruitless. I do it anyway. I’m good at beating up myself.

I’m angry with others, too.

I share here. This is public. People can comment. Almost everyone is positive. But every now and then you get a sock to the jaw from someone you know — and even someone you don’t know — and it really stings.

I try to avoid assuming bad intentions. I learned this from my friend Ross Peterson, the radio host and relator.

I choose to believe these things are said to be inspirational or out of love. They’re just expressed imperfectly. That I understand. I’ve worked with letters most of my life and I still struggle to express myself precisely the way I want.

Here is what I want people to know:

I’m dealing with a lot of shit right now.

I’m taking some classes that aren’t easy for me.

I’m recovering from knee surgery.

My arthritis hurts bad.

When unemployment runs out, if I don’t get approved for an extension through the federal government, I must appeal to an administrative law judge. That’s a lot of stress.

But despite all the stuff I’m dealing with, I am trying to be better.

I don’t want to just be an adequate or good teacher. I want to be a great one. I want to be the teacher that students look forward to seeing each day. More than that, I want to be the teacher students learn stuff they can use from.

I’m actively working on my physical and mental health. I’m in physical therapy. I’m in behavioral therapy.

I may complain. I may groan. I may cry out. I may make dad noises.

But I promise all of you I’m doing the best I can.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.

I finally understand why people talk about the weather

I believe writer’s block is an affectation suffered only by published authors obsessed with outdoing the positive notices from their successful novel.

So, I’m definitely not going to blame my lack of stacked paragraphs on this blog to writer’s block.

I’d say it’s more a case of topic block.

The worst sin a columnist can make, if one could call these missives columns, is to be boring.

My present mindset is everything that’s thinking about is boring.

Does anybody really want to read about me fumbling through a Shakespeare class at age 46?

Hell, I don’t want to read Shakespeare at any age let alone read about someone reading Shakespeare.

Maybe I could write my umpteenth update on my recovery from knee surgery.

Oh, what a tale. My arthritic knees hurt. All. The. Damn. Time.

I use a walker to go longer distances and a cane for shorter ones.

It feels like someone replaced my knees with two balloons filled with shards of glass and aluminum filings. I land just wrong and the things explode sending pain throughout my legs like grenade shrapnel.

My gait resembles a kid who got the off the merry-go-round after getting the rotation up to about 250 rpm — wobbly with a chance of falling.

That doesn’t make for fun reading.

Where’s the uplifting message about resilience there?

Oh, here’s a spot of uplift: I started physical therapy last week. That hurts like hell, too. I leave so tired and weak I think I’m going to have to call an Uber to drive me from the clinic door to my car.

That’s not page-turning stuff there.

I could write about how my unemployment expires this month. I should qualify for a federal extension that would keep me with some income coming in until I finish school.

But, of course, there is a hassle.

To get approved for this program you must deal with the federal government filtered through the state government, which is like saying to get to the cold beer at the back of the fridge, you must first punch through a wasp nest and then a bee nest with your face.

So, no, I don’t think I’ll write about that.

There’s always the topic of my morbid obesity.

People like to bring that up. I know that comes from a place of concern. They don’t want their friend/loved one to die — or suffer.

I get that.

I also understand my arthritis is exacerbated by my obesity.

But I don’t want to talk about it.

Know this: I’m trying. I tried a program recommended by one of my friends. I gained weight and lost money. I stopped. Now I’m just trying to cut calories.

And as many paragraphs I’ve stacked here on the topic of obesity and my diet, I really, truly, hand to higher power of your choice, don’t want to fucking talk about it.

I need no reminders of how fat I am.

I have the one mirror in the bathroom. I use the walker to get across campus.

I know.

We could talk about the weather. Wednesday was a nice day. It was the first day of fall.

I knew this because three different stories on my Google homepage alerted me to that Wednesday was the autumnal equinox.

Google rained virtual leaves across its homepage, which was almost as ridiculous as this CNN headline: “Fall: The season of cozy, delicious wisdom-inducing rediscovery.”

I’m not clicking on that link. I’m not linking to that story.

But I may change my home page to Bing. Or DuckDuckGo, which is a real thing.

To be fair, the beginning of fall is a quaint, mostly useless fact, one that I’ve noted many times before.

I wrote a lot of weather stories for the local newspaper.

Readers ate them up. I never understood it.

Sometimes it’s hot. Sometimes it’s cold. Sometimes it’s sunny. Sometimes it rains or snows.

Whatever it the forecast, you’re still going to have to live your life — especially in the age of Zoom meetings, work-from-home, and the virtual classroom.

I guess that’s my story of resilience.

Things aren’t going so hot right now.

So what?

The best any of us can do is get up tomorrow and try again.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.

Juicy details of surgery gone exactly as planned

My friend Mimi pulled her SUV up to the emergency room doors at Iowa Lutheran Hospital early Friday morning.

The first thought I had: “My mother died here.”

That was as grim as my thoughts got on the day that I had arthroscopic knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus in my left knee.

The procedure was practically without risk. I fretted in the weeks leading up to the surgery. My mind explored every possible disaster scenario.

But, in the end, I just let the process play out.

I took a picture of a children’s surgery bed that looks like a Jeep and posted it to Instagram. I suppose I was too big for it, which I was, but I wished I could have gone to the operating room in such a slick ride.

We arrived at 5:30 a.m. The time passed quickly in a barrage of questions, paper signings, and explanations to the procedure.

I tried to pay attention to the details, but the only clear thought I kept in my head is that I just wanted this to be done so I could go back home and watch Johnny Carson reruns on PlutoTV.

My IV included Ringer’s lactate.

This thrilled me. As a boy, I watched “Emergency!” — the Jack Webb TV series about the early Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic program.

Dr. Brackett constantly ordered Ringer’s lactate for the patients whom paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto brought to the fictional Rampart General Hospital.

I had a plastic doctor kit as a boy and I would give shots of Ringer’s lactate to my late father when I played “Emergency!,” complete with my red firefighter’s helmet with the official Rescue 51 sticker.

No matter how old I get, I never seem to let go of the heroes I met through the fuzzy images on the box in the living room or the four-color panels in the pulped pages of comic books.

The anesthesiologist visited to explain his role in the procedure. I was tempted to make an “Ugly John” joke from “M*A*S*H,” but I decided not to because that’s a deep cut even for people old enough to have watched “M*A*S*H,” which this doctor clearly was not.

The surgeon came in. We shook hands.

And then we were off to operating room, No. 10, I believe. I stepped off the cot and got onto the cold, metal operating table. The anesthesiologist asked me to scoot back about a foot. I did. I leaned back onto a pillow. I wondered how long it would take for me to fall asleep.

The next thing I remember is seeing my friend Karen Powell in post-op. Her husband Ric Powell taught and coached baseball when I was a student at East. We were good and close friends. I chatted with Karen about her children and grandchildren.

I met Mimi in my recovery room. The surgeon told her I had two tears of my meniscus, which accounted for the acute pain I’d felt since the joint broke bad in late June. He cut out the damaged portion and cleaned up the remaining tissue.

The news of two tears made me feel better. I am not a person who listens to his body well. I always believe I’m making too much out of something, that the pain is just temporary or not really a problem. So many people donated money, food, and time to make the surgery possible; I felt like the injury needed to fit the charity — it damn well better have been seriously painful.

And it was.

Rest assured, all you beautiful people who helped me: You got your money’s worth.

That, of course, isn’t something anyone asked of me. That’s just one of those terrible self-deprecating thoughts I have — that I don’t deserve the love people show me. That’s a work in progress, but I’m learning.

In recovery, my nurse worried about my blood-oxygen levels. I explained that one of the side effects of obesity is a condition where my belly fat pushes up against the bottom of my diaphragm, preventing me from drawing full, deep breaths.

The nurse adjusted the angle of the cot and my blood-oxygen rose to the appropriate level.

Soon, I pulled on my Incredible Hulk T-shirt and gray shorts. The nurse helped me with my shoes. I noticed the bandages wrapping my leg from above the knee to the ankle.

My foot was orange. This alarmed me, but the nurse said the doctor painted on a disinfectant as part of the surgery. It would wash off when I showered in about three days.

They wheeled me out to the front door and Mimi whisked me to the pharmacy to pick up my medication.

Parents 2.0 came over in the early afternoon.

Mom 2.0 took my laundry home. Dad 2.0 emptied the humidifier collection tray and washed my dishes. I felt decent for having been unconscious on an operating table with a doctor cutting ripped cartilage out of my leg only a few hours earlier.

Soon, I snuggled into bed with Grumpy Bear. Lorde’s excellent new album, “Solar Power,” played on my speakers as I drifted away.

The last few days have been tougher than the surgery day.

Anesthetic makes your body sore. I felt like I had fought 12 rounds with the Hulk. My body was sore all over and even sitting up required effort.

Kind people brought me food. My good friend Tyler Teske and his wife, Sarah, donated three meals and some snacks. My friend and colleague, Sara Sleyster, brought some beef burgers. And my friend Sarah Huffman, a bartender at Jethro’s, brought me some boneless wings and applesauce.

There were other people who helped me not named Sarah or Sara, but I couldn’t resist the idea that two Sarahs and a Sara were part of the team that nursed me back to health.

The biggest surprise of recovery so far has been the thing that last thing to return to normal is your bowels.

I took more stool softeners and milk of magnesia than pain medicine, but No. 2 finally arrived with some consternation at 11:13 a.m., Monday.

I recognize such disclosures are indelicate, but, come on, everybody poops. There’s a children’s book about it.

So, here we are, a week out from the beginning of my last semester of classes before student teaching.

I can stand and walk short distances without my cane. There are still bouts of pain in the knee. The bandages are off. Showers are on.

And the great adventure lurches forward.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.