The fear 4 hours before doctor appointment

My appointment with the specialist doctor is at 9 a.m.

It’s currently 4 a.m.

I’m scared.

I know that to get better, I need to see this doctor.

But I’m afraid.

I’ve never had surgery before. I don’t even know if I need surgery. But I’m scared of it.

I think about all the Drake women’s basketball players I wrote about who had knee injuries or other issues who had surgery.

To me, their condition was news — facts people should know about their favorite team.

I didn’t think about the pain.

I didn’t consider they might be afraid.

Maybe they weren’t.

Those Drake women’s basketball players I covered back in the mid- to late-1990s were tougher than I’ll ever be.

I remember one player, she got cut. She declined a pain killer because that meant shouldn’t go back into the game.

Me? I would have asked for maximum pain relief, my blankie, and my stuffed Pink Panther.

Someone I love was trying to help me yesterday.

This is her way. She takes charge. She leads.

She started to list all the changes I needed to make to get better.

Lose weight.

Listen to my doctors.

Exercise more.

She hit an especially tender spot. She asked if I thought I could walk to my classes at Drake even without my present knee problems.

Her question was legitimate. All my grad school work so far has been online because of the pandemic.

This fall, we’re back to buildings and classrooms.

Can I walk a few blocks to my classes even without a knee injury?

The answer is no.

But.

But I would have found a way. I would have paid for a parking sticker for the lots closest to the building I took my classes in.

If I couldn’t make it, I would use an assistive device — a crutch, a walker, whatever.

I was going to make it.

But her question comes with an unintentional punch.

It reminds me how much I hate myself — my physical body, how repulsed I am by the sight of me.

I know I am disgustingly fat by both medical and aesthetic standards. I know every extra pound shortens my lifespan.

I worry about it all the time.

The latest knee injury terrifies me on a scale I struggle to describe.

I worry that it can’t be fixed or will be easily reinjured. Thus, getting to class will become impossible and I won’t finish graduate school, won’t become a teacher and end up with a pile of student loans and no job to pay them with. I’ll be living down at the YMCA housing or in a hospice.

How’s that for maudlin thinking?

This is what goes on in a brain stricken with depression and anxiety.

That’s why I abruptly ended the call with my loved one.

I was rude.

But I had therapy soon. And I was hurting, both physically and emotionally.

I didn’t want to fight.

I just wanted someone to tell me everything was going to be OK.

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. 
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#OldManStudent: Lessons from the first week of class in the pandemic

The first week of graduate school is in the bag. It went well. I worry I’m on track to being one of those irritating non-traditional students who talks too much in class.

Those people burned me up as an undergraduate. They always did the reading and they were so damn enthusiastic about it.

Maybe they were more acutely aware of how much they were paying per credit hour than undergraduates. I know that’s my motivation for being a blabbermouth.

I really feel sorry for the 2020 undergraduate in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. They lost their rites of spring. At Drake University, that means the Drake Relays and sundry parties and events surrounding that.

Now they’re back on campus (sort of) slathered in Purell and muffled by masks. There’s no fall sports at many schools, including Drake. No cheerleaders. No marching bands. No guy in the Spike the Bulldog costume.

It doesn’t look too good for basketball, which is a damn shame because with my student ID, I could go see my beloved Drake women’s basketball team for free on most home games.

There are probably other things going on across campus, but I’m too old to rush a frat or join a social club. The only club I ever joined at Drake when I was an undergraduate was the Times-Delphic, the student newspaper.

I suppose I could get a beat over there, but I feel like student newspapers are for the up-and-coming journalists who need to get their reps in. I’ve had my 10,000 hours of practice.

And since much of my career was marked by heartbreak and sadness, especially in the end, I feel like I would spend most of my time encouraging the T-D staffers to consider seeing a therapist to discover why they hate themselves enough to enter the trade.

Some, like me, take all their courses online. There goes all the fun of walking across campus with classmates or hanging out in the residence halls having bull sessions over the topics of the day.

The best part of college is the fellowship. I learned a lot in the classroom, but I learned far more from the people I met.

My best friend, Memphis Paul, taught me about the mentality of Southerners. My roommate Anthony, who grew up in Milwaukee, taught me about growing up Black in America.

Another buddy, Brent, included me in scores of events with his family from Hamburg, a quirky small town in southwest Iowa.

I fell in love a few times. Nothing came of it. I’m difficult to get along with, but many of my classmates met their spouses in college.

I felt a profound sense of sadness that today’s college student is robbed of the true college experience.

The week many students arrived on college campuses in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds closed bars and nightclubs because of increased coronavirus cases.

Think of all those poor undergraduate students who won’t get to test out their fake IDs.

I imagine it won’t be long until schools go all online. I already opted for that. I’m not looking to make friends as much this time around as I am focused on learning a new profession.

That said, I don’t mind online classes, but it has some weird quirks. Some professors require you to have your camera on throughout the class period. Others don’t.

A professor in one of my classes described being on camera for hours at a time “exhausting.”

I see her point, but we are learning to be teachers. Assuming the pandemic eventually ends, we are learning jobs that will require us to be in front of students, fellow teachers, parents and administrators every day.

If I were teaching, I don’t know if I would trust my middle school or high school students with their cameras off.

But that’s life in the pandemic, isn’t it?

We’re all asked to trust each other and act in accordance to our consciences.

The only option left us is to make the best of a shitty situation.

And pick up a six pack at the store, because we’ll not be meeting at Peggy’s on Thursday night for a while.

Daniel P. Finney does not have this much hair anymore.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Back to school at 45: Differences between 1980 and 2020

I popped out of bed and hustled to get dressed. The first day of school had finally arrived.

I rushed to the kitchen and poured my cereal and milk.

I scraped the last scoop and drank the milk.

Every schoolchild knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I hustled to brush my teeth and put on my new school outfit. I shrugged on my favorite Yankees T-shirt and a pair of cool new athletic shorts. I slipped on my tennis shoes and rushed out the front door.

And then … I turned around and went back inside to my bedroom. I sat down at my desk and clicked a button on my browser to join a Zoom call for my first class of graduate school.

The last time I was in a classroom as a student was 15 years ago, when my attempt at graduate school was put on hold to return to newspapers.

A lot has changed since my first real day of school, fall 1980 kindergarten at Woodlawn Elementary School on Des Moines’ northwest side.

1980: Mom helped me get dressed.

2020: With arthritis in my knees and back, I wouldn’t say no to a helper to get me dressed.

1980: Tied my own shoes by myself including double knot.

2020: I use elastic laces that turn every shoe into a slip on.

1980: Breakfast was Lucky Charms in whole milk.

2020: Breakfast was Grape Nuts in ultra-filtered skim milk with added protein.

1980: My backpack was filled with new folders, notebooks, pens and a badass set of NFL pencils with the team’s name etched into one side.

2020: I’m using pens and notebooks I stole from my former employer after they laid me off.

1980: They would let you go down to the library to play “Oregon Trail” for computer time.

2020: The whole class is on a computer and I take it in my bedroom, which is loaded with toys.

1980: We enjoyed a nice midday snack of apples and milk.

2020: My bladder can’t hold a can of Diet Mountain Dew for an entire 90-minute course.

1980: There was a midday nap.

2020: Same.

I could go on, but my drummer thew out his shoulder doing rimshots.

In all seriousness, today was the best day I’ve had in a long time.

I looked for a job for four months. I didn’t find one. I felt impotent and small. I felt useless. I lacked purpose and drive. I was depressed and anxious.

Before class started, I worried I would be overwhelmed or out-of-place. I wasn’t. It was class, the same as class has always been most of my life.

Today was a purposeful day. I took one step toward a new future. At long last, I got momentum.

That’s about the best you can ask from a day.

Daniel P. Finney covers head scratching and bug bite itch for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.