May my indignities bring you amusement on a Monday

The new semester started roughly for the old newsman. Surgeons cut torn cartridge out of his left knee 10 days before the first day of school.

He thought that would be enough time for him to recover before traversing campus with his cane.

He was wrong.

After two days, his leg hurt so badly he could barely walk. He went to a post-surgery visit with his doctor. The doctor prescribed physical therapy and a walker.

The old newsman asked for the walker.

He resisted it for some time, but the reality set in. The cane worked fine for short trips. But to move on a schedule, he needed more help.

This bothered the old newsman more than he wanted to admit. His obesity had long been a problem, but now his body felt like it was breaking down.

He wasn’t out of it, yet. No, the old newsman still had more adventures in him.

But, still, he did not expect to be cutting tennis balls for the legs of his walker at age 46.

The old newsman didn’t get much of a chance to try out his walker before he got knocked on his bulbous butt by what our best scientists can only describe as “a stomach bug.”

There is probably a more ominous name for the affliction, but this is what is understood and spoken by layman, nurse, and doctor alike.

The old newsman thought “up down” would be an appropriate moniker.

The virus gets a person up and down out of bed with frequent trips to the bathroom to dispose of the sick in a variety of ways.

His fever hit 102.0 on the first day and slowly fell to 99.1 and eventually normal ranges. He eventually kept down five saltine crackers and a few sips of sugar-free sports drink.

The newsman recovered, though not before making several pledges to God about future swearing and church attendance.

The dehydration he endured, however, complicated a longstanding issue with his calf muscles. Without the proper electrolyte balance, his calves tend to pull and knot up like a string of last year’s Christmas lights.

This latest pull came in the shower and nearly sent his massive frame to the tile floor, which likely would have resulted in another visit from the fellows at Fire Station No. 4.

The old newsman already owes them money from their visit in late June, the day he tore the cartridge in his knee.

These calf knots need to be massaged with heat applied.

The old newsman does his best, but it’s the kind of job you need extra hands for.

His former physical therapist, Stefanie Mullins, used a series of metal tools to divide and straighten the jumbled muscle fibers.

The old newsman often told her that if the physical therapy thing didn’t work out, she had a future as demonstrator of Medieval torture at a living history museum.

Her method was preferrable to the one used at his former gym, where one of the trainers took a 45-pound bar and rolled it over the lump in the calf until, apparently, it collapsed like a can of pizza sauce under a steamroller.

Neither of these methods were available to the old newsman at the time of the most recent calf injury. So, he ordered up some compression socks.

He ordered black. Black is cool. Socks should only be black, gray, or white. The old newsman is conservative about socks.

Unfortunately, he received beige. Beige is the color of nursing home feet.

Nobody in the history of fashion has ever said, “You know, this outfit needs more beige.” No, what they say is, “That beige really highlights the blandness of your personality and overall social invisibility.”

So come Monday morning, when you, dear reader, are likely reading this over your Raisin Bran and cup of maple nut crunch from your Keurig, the old newsman will be gingerly preparing to return to campus.

The 6-4, too-big-to-weigh-at-home man will don a t-shirt with some comic book nonsense on it, wrinkled khakis, tightly laced New Balance shoes, his Yankees cap, and smartly accessorize with his new walker built especially for the big and tall man, yellow tennis balls replaced with sleek new skis, and tan compression socks.

Whatever happens in your day, keep that image in mind.

He hopes the amusement salves whatever indignities your workplace might savage upon you this Monday.


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.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Fighting breast cancer, she still helps others

My friend Patty Graziano stopped by with a foil pan of stuffed pasta shells. She brought the dish as a donation to a fundraiser set up by my friend Mary in advance of pending knee surgery. You can still donate here if you’re of a mind to do such a thing.

I met Patty several years ago when I was a columnist for the local newspaper. I saw her at Barnes and Noble, a place I used to haunt. Patty usually sat with a different kid each night.

Sometimes her arms gesticulated wildly. She smiled often and laughed loud. The children seemed entertained and focused.

She obviously was some kind of tutor and one with a big following. I observed her several times and never saw her with the same kid.

I approached her one night in the most awkward way.

I walked up to her table and said, “I’ve been watching you.”

Sometimes I forget how big I am, not just in girth, but in height. Patty’s eyes widened. I quickly produced my business card and photo ID to explain I was a writer who wanted to write about her.

Patty demurred. What was so interesting about a tutor?

I find the people who don’t think themselves to be very interesting often have the best stories.

She worried a story about her would result in a bunch of requests for services, but her schedule was booked.

I pressed her and she told me her story.

Patty and I became friends. When I wrote about dealing with chronic depression and anxiety, she often sent positive messages and told me stories from her own life.

I often think of Patty’s relationships with her students.

When I worked for one of the local TV stations, I booked her as a source for one of the reporters.

I suggested to one of the morning producers that they make a weekly segment with Patty, which they did last year during the school year.

Patty’s segment might have been the one positive thing I did in my brief run in TV — and all I did was suggest it. People who know what they were doing — which was never me — made it happen.

Patty marched right into my apartment and gave me a big hug. I offered to take the dish from her. She waived me off and marched into the kitchen and put it in the fridge, complete with reheating instructions.

I wobbled back to my recliner with my cane.

She plopped down on my living room floor, and we caught up.

Patty and her family recently visited Disney World. She built lightsabers and flew the Millennium Falcon with her children, nieces and nephews along for the ride.

The positivity just blasted out of her. Being in her presence is like driving west on I-235 in the early fall when the sun is setting right in your eyeline. She’s almost too bright to look at directly without wearing sunglasses.

We weren’t wearing sunglasses.

We were wearing masks.

Patty and I are both fully vaccinated.

But Patty is fighting breast cancer.

She has surgery later this month. She’s taking no chances. She doesn’t even want to get the sniffles from allergies.

She talks about the surgery with the detachment of the scientist she is, explaining the procedure and process. Yet, she never hides her humanity.

“There has been constant crying,” she told me.

Patty chooses to embrace hope.

She explained how different generations of her family reacted to her diagnosis.

Her parents, she said, are terrified. Her husband and peers, people in their 40s, are worried. But her children?

“They’re like, ‘yeah, lots of people get breast cancer and survive,’” Patty said.

The advancements in science comfort Patty. Two generations ago, her diagnosis was a likely death sentence. Now her chances of survival and remission are very high.

I like the way Patty’s mind works. I keep her in mind when I envision the kind of teacher I will be. I can’t match her energy — nothing short of a supernova could — but I will strive to match her earnestness and enthusiasm for subject, students, teaching, and learning.

Patty teaches me lessons all the time.

Her Instagram account often includes videos where she talks about the difference between frogs and toads or the parts of a flower in her garden.

The day she visited, she taught me the biggest lesson yet.

This was a woman who was facing a far greater health threat than a torn meniscus. Yet, Patty still took time to drop by and visit a friend and bring some food at that.

My eyes well up with tears just thinking about the kind of decency she embodies.

I see the hand of God in my life through the kindness that’s been heaped upon me by family, friends, readers, and often total strangers.

I worked as a newspaperman so long that my negative thoughts about humans only intensified when I wrote about what my late friend, Des Moines Senior Police Officer Dan Dusenbery, called “all the savage things that people do to each other and themselves, intentionally or unintentionally.”

By the time my career ended amidst the news industry’s obsession with online metrics, I began to think of myself as a failure, a man born too late to have done anything meaningful.

My paragraph stacks flowed out of my fingers into the keyboard and then disappeared into the cacophony of noise that is American life, sometimes hated, occasionally liked, but mostly ignored.

Then I hear from people such as Patty.

And I begin to think maybe it mattered, perhaps not on the grandiose scale I hoped it would, but still, it mattered.

If all I had to show for 27 years as a newsman was a friendship with Patty Graziano, that would be enough.

But all of you have shown it’s so much more than that.

I struggle to accept the enormity of that gift.

You’ve lifted my spirits and pushed me to keep moving forward, to be a better man, and always, always, always put love first.

Thank you, 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.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Count blessings, not $4,000 surgery bill

Knee update: I visited the surgeon at the Des Moines Orthopedic Center in West Des Moines.

The doctor recommended an arthroscopic procedure at Lutheran Hospital. He said it would take about 2 hours, the surgery was virtually risk free, and I’d be on my feet the next day or so. Physical therapy might not even be necessary.

This sounded pretty good, especially against the ongoing agony I live with. We set a date for Aug. 20, which would give me recovery time before school started 10 days later.

The doctor’s assistant brought me a bunch of paperwork.

One page, the green page, detailed how the surgery would be billed.

The clinic’s policy is half the cost of the uninsured portion of the bill must be paid by two days before the surgery. I buy my insurance policy through HealthCare.gov.

The insurance isn’t great, but it gives me something in case of disaster.

Alas, this disaster came at a time when I hadn’t met my deductible.

That means I likely would have to pay the clinic more than $4,000 before I took my first breath of anesthesia.

I don’t have that money, nor do I have access to it.

I explained that to the person who handled the financial side of things. She said that was the policy.

In fairness, I don’t know what my portion of the total bill is yet. The computers hadn’t added it all up yet. It could be a little less, but it could be a lot more.

This is one of those moments where a person really needs some true grit.

I got the news, and I felt my depressed, anxious mind start to spiral.

This is it, I thought. This is where I fall and don’t get back up.

This worry plagues me.

My mind speeds through all the ways my plans to transform myself from discarded newspaper man to a schoolteacher can crash and burn.

The parade of horribles march through my mind like some freak show displays lost from the last circus.

My knee hurts a lot. Some days it is unbearable even when I’m idle. Other days, it’s livable. Unpleasant, but livable.

I need my mobility for all the obvious reasons, but especially with in-person classes starting this fall at Drake University.

I have one more semester of regular classes and then I’m due to student teach in the spring, but if I can’t walk to classes, I’m in trouble.

I’m remaking my life at middle age.

I can’t stress enough how challenging that is.

I gave all I had to give to journalism, but the trade as I knew it, died — or at least changed in such a way that it no longer included old typists like me.

So, the thing I thought I was going to do until I retired is gone at age 46.

OK, fine. I’ll teach the rest of my working life.

But this journey is fraught with peril.

I’m unemployed.

I’m broke.

I’m managing anxiety, depression, and obesity.

Oh, right, and then the knee.

The IRS seems to think it’s fine to hold on to my tax refund for however the hell long it sees fit and nobody, not even the staff of Sen. Chuck Grassley, seems to be able to do anything about that except tell me to be patient.

That cash would go a long way toward the knee surgery.

My wobbly knee and pain feel like a metaphor for this seemingly impossible effort at survival.

But I choose not to embrace misery.

That’s new for me.

I used to fall into sadness the way children cannonball into the deep end of the swimming pool.

Yet, I live with daily miracles. People like Maddie and Charles prove to me that humanity has not lost its heart, only the ability to tell the story of grace.

Scores of people have supported this website.

My friend Mary Hoover, an East High School chum whom I had not seen since she graduated a year ahead of me in 1992, emailed me after I posted about the initial knee injury.

“I’d like to make a home cooked meal,” she said.

A few days later, she arrived with a massive container of thick beef stew loaded with carrots, potatoes, green beans, corn, and meat. I could barely get the ladle into the concoction to scoop it into a bowl to reheat.

She started a fundraiser for me at MealTrain.com. People have sent money and brought me food — good, healthy food.

My first reaction is embarrassment.

Who am I to deserve this treatment?

I am a deeply flawed human who has made so many mistakes.

I am unworthy, I think.

But you know what?

How dare I think that?

That spits in the eyes of all these people who see worthiness inside me. I am not so flawed as to turn my back on the grace and kindness of family, friends, and strangers who only know me through my paragraphs.

Instead, I choose to embrace this love shown to me and pledge to pay it forward. I will never be able to square it with those who have helped me.

That’s not the point anyway.

What I will do, though, is commit to resiliency. I will find a way to make it to those classes this fall and through student teaching in the spring.

I pay the investments all these kind souls have made in me by helping to spark the fire of creativity in future generations of writers, thinkers, muckrakers, and paragraph stackers.

This challenging time brought home the stunning and joyous that I am not alone neither in this leg of the journey nor in life itself.

With all of you cheering and hands outstretched, I vow to bow my head and barrel forward as hard as 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.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.