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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thoughts About Dagmar's Surgery 'n Stuff

The Procedure

Why they want you there so early is beyond me. If you're gonna have an operation, wouldn't it be better for you to have a full night's sleep the night before? I guess not... Dagmar had to be there at 5:30 a.m. (For you military types, that's 0530 oo-RAH, prime @ss-kickin' time. For Republicans it's time to get to work repressing the working class. For Democrats its, like, man, that's like really early and stuff. For Libertarians, that's when Mickey's big hand is on the five and his little hand is on the six... In any case, it's like, man, really early and stuff...)

"Vhat time is it?" she asked me blearily, one eye open. "Vhat are you doing up?" (Her Austrian accent is always stronger when she's sleepy. Sometimes she mixes German and English together, which is always kinda funny sounding. Germish.)

"It's four in the morning," I answered, rubbing my eyes. "If we're gonna get you to the hospital in time I'd better get in the shower and start packing."

"You shower. I schlaf." With that she rolled over and started snoring.

By quarter after five everything was packed and in the car, and off we went to the St. Luke's, the smaller of the two hospitals in Sioux City. "Why did you pick St. Luke's, anyway?" I asked Dagmar. "I thought after that time you sat in the emergency room for eight hours before anyone saw you that we decided we were going to go to the other hospital." Dagmar had a kidney stone a few years ago. I ran her to the emergency room, where she sat curled up on the floor for over eight hours before she passed the stone on her own without any medication. Yes, they sent us a bill, even though she didn't get so much as an aspirin.

"Yeah," she said. "I know. But my mama used to work at St. Luke's, und I know people there. Dey have nicer rooms."

We pulled into the parking lot. I dropped her off at the door, parked the car, and met her at the front desk. The lady at the front desk was really nice and ushered us into a "prep room" or some such thing where Dagmar had to put on the little half robe. A nurse came in and very nicely explained what was going to happen. Another came in a few minutes later and poked Dagmar's arm with an IV. Shortly after that yet another nurse came in and asked a bunch of questions.

"Boy, it's sure going quick," Dagmar said to me after the third nurse left. "I can't believe they got the IV in so easy -- usually dey have to poke around for a long time." Dagmar has notoriously small veins in her arms. Last time they had to give her an IV they were eying her ankles... "Everyting's going so vell!"

About that time the anesthesi... anisthes... drug doctor came in. "Hello, how are we doing today?"

Dagmar has adverse reactions to almost every painkiller known to science, so she learned long ago it's best to simply hand the anesthesiologist the form the LAST anesthesiologist used. That way she knows it's gonna work. "Here," Dagmar said. "This is vhat verks for me. Und can I maybe have an epidural?" The doctor was agreeable to that. "Sure," he said. "We'll give you an epidural, then we'll give you a real light dose of the general anesthetic. You won't feel a thing." He patted Dagmar paternally on the head and left.

"Gosh, I hope I don't feel anyting," Dagmar said, laying in the little bed. "I don't vant to remember the pain." Dagmar's mother, Kriemhild (or Mama K), came in. "Hello, Mama! The nurses and doctors here sure are nice!"

They chatted a few minutes, Dagmar and Mama K. Then a nurse came in. "It's time to go," she said, grabbing Dagmar's little trolley-bed and dragging it out the door. "Everything will be okay." Mama K and I followed into the hall and watched our beloved get wheeled towards the operating room. I could hear Dagmar's voice as she rode her little bed-trolley through the doors at the end of the hall, "You're a nice nurse. I've never had an epidural. Vill I remember de operation? I don't vant to remember... What pretty blue outfits you all have! Vhat's dat machine for?"

Mama K and I stood there for a moment, then went back to the waiting room to start The Wait.

"So far so good," I said to Mama K as we sat down. "The nurses were nice, the doctor was nice, they got her IV in on the first try - this is going really well."

"Ya, I haf a good feelink about dis," answered my mother-in-law. "She's in good hands. Did dey say how long this vill take?"

"Forty minutes is the guesstimate," I said. Mama K pulled out her Bible, opened it to the bookmark and proceeded to stare at it. I could tell she wasn't reading the passage, but it gave her something to look at. I sat with her for a few minutes, then said, "I have to go home to give our diabetic cat his shot. I'll be back in fifteen minutes." Mama K nodded and smiled.

I zipped home, shot the cat, and was indeed back in my Waiting Chair within fifteen minutes. I sat and stared at a magazine while Mama K sat and stared at her Bible. A few minutes later my mother arrived to help us wait. We talked.

The forty minute mark went by. We started to look at the door more and more often, hoping to see a nurse or doctor with news. We chatted.

After fifty minutes I was pacing back and forth between my chair and the door. We chatted.

After an hour we quit chatting and spent our time staring at the door, willing a nurse to come and tell us what's going on.

I think it was around the eighty minute mark that the nurse finally came through the door. "Dagmar's in recovery," she said. "She's doing fine. The doctor will meet with you in this tiny little room over here." She led us to the tiny little room, where the three of us sat for another five minutes waiting for the doctor.

The funny things about small rooms is that they hold the tension in very well. There's nowhere for it to go.

The doctor finally came in, a tall confident lady with black hair. "Hi, I'm the doctor," she said. "Everything went well." We all relaxed a bit. The doctor continued, "I made the incision here," she traced an invisible line on her abdomen from hipbone to hipbone, "but as soon as I opened her up I could see things were out of place -- nothing was where it was supposed to be. We were prepared for that." (Dagmar's last surgeon found her left ovary behind her right one.) "I had another surgeon in the room to handle that, and we did end up calling in a third surgeon as well to handle the bowel. He had to cut through a lot of scar tissue and adhesions from her other operations. We found Dagmar's uterus tangled up in her intestines and removed that, and she had a cyst the size of an orange or small grapefruit on her ovary. We got that out. Dagmar also had endometriosis, an ovarian infection that causes a lot of, well, sticky stuff. We cleaned that up best we could, put her bowel back in, and stapled her all together."

Day One, Thursday. The Incompetence Begins.

The doctor looked at us as we sat in the tiny room. "She must have been in a LOT of pain for a long time. She'll feel a lot better now. Her ovary and uterus had to come out. It was time." We asked a few questions, mostly out of nervous energy, then the doctor left.

"Vell, dat's good news!" Mama K said, standing up.

"Yes, it sounds like everything's going to be okay," said my mother as we made our way into the hall.

"She's getting such good care," said Mama K, holding her Bible. "Everyone's been so good here."

"Where do we go now?" I asked, eager to see my little Austrian Snickerdoodle. No one knew. I went to the front desk. "Excuse me," I said. "My wife just got out of surgery. Do you know what room she's going to be in?"

The lady glanced up at me, seemingly annoyed. "Fourth floor."

"Where on fourth floor?" I asked. "How do I get there?"

"Just go up to the fourth floor." she said, eyes glued on her computer monitor. I had the feeling she was playing solitaire.

I shrugged, went back to my mother and mother-in-law, and we just sort of wandered through the hospital looking for an elevator. We eventually found one and got to the fourth floor. "Oncology," read the sign on the wall on the fourth floor. The cancer ward. We three looked at the sign. "No one said anything about cancer," I said. "Why is she in the cancer ward?" We stood there for a moment, looking down both halls for a nurse's station, or even someone who looked like they knew where they were going. "Let's go this way," I said, wishing I had brought some bread crumbs along with which to leave a trail through the maze. "No one said anything about cancer..."

We found a nurse's station about six miles down the hall. There was a big marker board on the wall with a lot of names on it and scary symbols. "Hi," I said to the lady at the desk, leaving my mother and Mama K to chat. "My wife just had a hysterectomy. They told us she'd be up here...?"

"If she had a hysterectomy, why would she be up here?" the nurse asked. "This is oncology."

"I know, I saw the sign. But the lady in the waiting room told us to come here."

"This is oncology," the nurse repeated. "Hysterectomies are on the second floor." A movement over her shoulder caught my attention. It was another nurse writing something on the marker board -- "Dagmar, rm 421, gyno rcvry." I looked at the first nurse. "That's my wife there on the board," I said.

"Oh, yeah, sometimes they bring people up here to oncology from gynecology if we have extra room. They'll bring her after she's done in recovery."

"If you knew that, why didn't you believe me when I said my wife was here?"

"This is oncology," she repeated. I started to get the impression that the lady just learned that word and was trying to show off. "We're oncology."

I went back to Ma and Mama K. "This is oncology," I said. "She'll be in room 421. Don't talk to that nurse."

Room 421 ended up being another three miles down the hall on the left. But geeze, what a room! I've seen hotel rooms worse than this. A private bathroom with a shower, a place for Dagmar's little trolley-bed to go when they brought her up, a desk, a couch with a hide-a-bed, a rocking chair, an easy-boy, and a TV with static. The view was great, too, overlooking a scenic park.

"Vow!" said Mama K.

"This is nice!" said my mother.

We all kinda stood there for a few seconds, wondering how long it would take Dagmar to get out of recovery. I mean, she had an epidural with just a light anesthetic, so it shouldn't take too... "Here she is!" I said as the nurse wheeled the little bed-trolley into place. We all gathered around to peek at Dagmar. "Hi everbuddy," she said, looking up at us. "Is it done?"

"It's done!" I said. Mama K chimed in, "You're avake! You look fantastic!"

You know, it always breaks your heart to see someone you love come out of surgery -- no matter how good they look. Dagmar was a very small lump under the blanket. She was pale and shaky. She had an oxygen tube stuck in her nose. There were all sorts of tubes coming out from under the blankets. An IV stand with three bags. But she was smiling! She was smiling. Everything's good when Dagmar smiles.

"It doesn't hurt," she said. "I'm awfully tired... Ich glaube I sleep. Schlaf." Her voice trailed off as she fell asleep.

The doctor came in. Dagmar said she was feeling pretty weak. The doctor lady looked at Dagmar's belly. "It all looks good," she said, "but we did have to play with your intestines quite a bit. I want you to take it slow. Don't move too much, just concentrate on healing. Take things slow. You'll probably be here until Monday or Tuesday, and that's fine. We don't want to push things too quickly." She smiled reassuringly and left.

Dagmar napped on and off throughout the morning. My mother went back home. Mama K and I would read quietly when Dagmar slept, and we'd chat with her when she was awake. Most of the time when you're in the hospital there are always people coming and going, taking blood, checking things... But we were pretty much left alone until after lunch.

"Okay, I need you to sit up," the nurse told Dagmar. "You need to start moving. The more you move, the quicker you heal." The nurse started fumbling around with Dagmar's bed.

"Are you sure about this?" I asked. "She just got out of surgery six hours ago." Mama K looked on in concern.

"Yes, she needs to get up," the nurse said without looking up.

"I get up," said Dagmar. I held the IV cords out of the way as Mama K helped Dagmar struggled to sit up. The nurse watched. "Hoo boy," said Dagmar, sitting on the edge of the bed, "I think I might need a bucket. The vorld is spinning."

"Here's a bag if you get sick," the nurse said, handing Dagmar a baggie. "Now get up."

"No, I need to sit here a minute. Dis is too fast."

"We need to get you moving. Get up."

"No. I'll pass out. No."

"Get up."


Mama K and I both took a step closer to the nurse. We want to follow authority. The nurse represents the medical community, after all. What she ways must be true. But there's Dagmar in pain and misery. Do we defend our loved one? Do we defy authority? Or do we assume the nurse knows what she's talking about? But the doctor said to take things slowly. In other words, do I punch the nurse or not?

Dagmar solved the dilemma for us by simply laying back down. "I'm not getting up yet. Give me a minute. I'll try in a few minutes." The nurse, sensing defeat, left without a word, her mouth set so tight I could swear her lips disappeared.

True to her word, Dagmar tried to sit up again just a few minutes later. After sitting for a bit, we untangled her IV and various other tubes and helped her stand up and walk around. Out the door and up the hall twenty feet, then back to the little trolley-bed. Dagmar was asleep again as soon as she was in bed.

The afternoon continued and drifted into evening. Dagmar snoozed and woke and snoozed again. I went home and gave the cat his evening shot and grabbed my iMac and went back to the hospital. Mama K went home to take a nap. I set my computer up on the desk and logged into the hospital's complimentary wireless network and got caught up on some work in the minutes Dagmar snoozed. She was spending much more time awake than asleep now.

I learned that you can't really sleep on a hide-a-bed.

Day Two, Friday. The Incompetence Continues.

"It hurts more today," Dagmar said. She still had the needle in her back for the epidural, so the medication she was getting there was helping the pain in her abdomen, but you could tell she was hurting.

"Is it your incision that hurts?" I asked her.

"No, it's my IV und my catheter. I vish I didn't need them." Unfortunately, though, if you have an epidural you need a catheter.

The morning and afternoon were spent with Dagmar taking small walks up and down the hallway and chatting with her mama. When she would nap I would get a few minutes work done on my computer -- I had two newsletters from work to typeset and design somehow. Every time a nurse came in Dagmar would mention her IV and catheter, but all they said was, "you just keep walking as much as you can." Once a specialist came in to look at the IV. She moved it to the other arm.

I went home to give the cat his shot that evening and lay down on the couch to get a nap. Dagmar and her mother both encouraged me to get some sleep, so I did. Much to my horrification I slept until five the next morning! I got up, sprinted through the shower, shot the cat again and ran to the hospital.

Day 3, Saturday. Incompetence Intensified.

Miserably guilty that I'd fallen asleep at home whilst Mama K was watching Dagmar in the hospital, I ran down the fourth floor hall to get to her room as soon as I could. I knew I shouldn't have tried to take a "two hour" nap! Dammit dammit dammit. I swooshed past the nurse's station, thinking I was a failure for abandoning my wife for the night. I skidded to a stop in front of her hospital room door and peeked in. I could tell immediately that something was wrong . Dagmar's face was pale. She had a self-absorbed, inward look, as if she was battling something inside. The IV was gone. Mama K was sitting on the edge of the chair by Dagmar's bed. I could see she was on the verge of exhaustion; worry written on her face. It was five in the morning.

"What happened?" I asked. "What's wrong?"

"It vas a rough night," Mama K answered. "Dey took her IV und catheter out."

"Why?" I asked, gazing at Dagmar, tugging a little on her toe. "They said they were going to leave that in until Monday. This is only Saturday morning!"

"It vas time," Mama K said. "Daggie's vein in her arm perforated. Dey never flushed the IV like they vere supposed to. So they had to take the IV out early."

"What about the catheter?" I asked. "I know Dagmar was complaining about it hurting yesterday."

Mama K looked at me. "Those nurses, they vere supposed to clean it every few hours, und they never vunce did. They never cleaned it! Now it has to come out, even though Dagmar's not ready for that yet."

"You're kidding me!" I said.

"De grumpy night nurse said it vasn't her job," Mama K continued. "I asked her whose job it is, but she just left und said it vasn't her fault."

Just then Dagmar stirred, reaching over to hit the "call" button on her bed, sweat beaded on her forehead. "Yes?" came a voice from the speaker.

"I'm really in a lot of pain," Dagmar said. "Can I have my ibuprofen, please?" The nurse on the other end never answered but rather just hung up. Click. That's standard operating procedure at St. Luke's, I guess -- I never once heard them do anything but hang up on Dagmar when she hit the call button. Dagmar closed her eyes again.

"They took her epidural out vhen they took her IV," said Mama K. "She hasn't had any pain medication since before midnight. It's been six hours. She's been asking for ibuprofen or aspirin ever since und dey just ignore her."

"You're kidding me!" I said, sitting down. I started mulling through my options. My first instinct was to go to the nurse's station and start choking people until someone got the hint and helped my wife. My second thought was to get her the hell out of this hospital and go to Mercy Medical across town. My third thought was that choking someone really sounded pretty good.

My ruminations were interrupted by the door opening. An elderly nurse walked in. No knock or anything... I say "elderly," but she was probably only in her fifties -- but she wore old-school hair, old-school clothes, and an old-school attitude. She looked like an unhappy prune. "What do you want now?" she asked Dagmar in a snitty tone.

"I vant some ibuprofen, please," Dagmar said. "It's been over six hours and I haven't had any painkillers und it hurts."

"I told you when I took the IV out that this would happen. You should have left the epidural in."

"If you vood have taken care of her IV and catheter like you were supposed to, she'd still have the epidural," said Mama K.

"I'll go see if you're allowed medication," Nurse Prune said as she left. "Allowed medication?" I thought to myself. "It's over-the-counter ibuprofen. Allowed?"

Dagmar sunk back into herself. I could see her utilizing her pain management techniques. At this point I should probably mention that Dagmar is NOT a wimp. A few years ago she had to have her head scanned for a different ailment. "How long have you had these migraines?" the doctor asked at that time. "Oh, I don't have migraines. Vunce in a vhile I get a liddle headache, but nothing bad," Dagmar told him. The doctor gaped at her. "No, you don't understand. You have migraines so bad they've left scar tissue in your brain." So when Dagmar says something hurts, most likely it really hurts...

Time passed. Dagmar covered in sweat, eyes clenched shut. Mama K reading, and me brooding. After a while Mama K said she had to go home to nap. Dagmar looked up long enough to say that was a good idea, so then it was just Dagmar and myself. Dagmar pushed the button again. "Yes," said the voice from the speaker.

"I'd really like some ibuprofen, please," Dagmar said. "It's been seven hours now. Please. It really hurts." The only response was "click."

An hour later there was a tap at the door. I looked up and saw a head poke in the room. A male nurse. He looked at me. "Radloff?"

"Schroeder?" I asked.

Both of us at the same time: "Dude! How ya been?"

"Honey, this is Schroeder. I was in the Guard with him in the 80s." Turns out my buddy Schroeder had moved to Houston and had lived there for the last 15 years or so, and had just moved back to Sioux City a few months ago. "Can my wife maybe have an Ibuprofen?"

Schroeder glanced at the passel of paperwork in his paw. "Oh, certainly," he said. "She was due for some painkillers four hours ago."

"She hasn't had anything since before midnight," I said.

"You're kidding me! I'll be right back." He scampered out the door.

"Your friend seems nice," Dagmar said. "I can't believe I have to stay here for three more days."

"I feel so bad for you," I said. "All they can do is give you ibuprofen and they're not even doing that."

The door opened. It was Schroeder with a little sippy-cup with a couple pills in it. "Here's your ibuprofen," he said. Dagmar wasted no time getting the pills down her gullet. Schroeder started checking Dagmar's blood pressure and stuff, chatting lightly with us.

When he was about halfway through, the door swung open and a tall man walked in, with Nurse Prune close behind. "Hello, your doctor is gone for the weekend. I'm the doctor on call. How are you?"

"I'm in a lot of pain," Dagmar said. "But Mister Schroeder just brought me some ibuprofen."

"He shouldn't have done that," hissed Nurse Prune quietly, seemingly doing a Gollum impersonation. "thiss is MY patient, my precioussss."

The doctor grabbed Dagmar's toe and wiggled it. "Well, you look okay to me. Pack up and go home if you want." He whirled and was gone, taking Nurse Prune with him.

Schroeder, Dagmar and I all looked at each other, competing to see who could look more surprised. "Well, I'll go get your discharge papers," Schroeder said, breaking the stunned silence. "You still look a little shaky though," he said, looking at Dagmar. "You can stay another couple days if you want. And you've paid for this room through midnight if you want to stay today."

"Who's going to be my nurse tonight?" Dagmar asked.

"You'll have the same nurse as you had last night."

"I'm going home. I'm not going to put up with that voman again."

"I'll finalize your paperwork for you," Schroeder said, heading for the door. "You can go whenever you want."

I helped Dagmar get on her feet and started packing. Within five minutes we were ready to go. A nice lady named Donna (she had been the consistent bright spot in our stay -- a cheerful woman who popped her head in every couple hours to see if we needed food, blankets, water -- she was a Godsend) helped me find a cart for all our luggage, flowers and assorted crud. "Vhat do we do now?" Dagmar asked Donna. "Do we just leave?"

"I guess so," said the nice lady. Dagmar and I slowly made our way up the hall, Dagmar keeping one hand on the cart I was pushing. "I don't know if I can valk all the way to the car," she said to me. "Don't they give you a vheelchair ride to the front door?" I shrugged. We walked past the nurse's station. Schroeder glanced up as we walked past. "Oh, hey," he said. "Leaving already?"

"Yeah," I said. "She'll be more comforable at home."

"Yep. Well, have a good day. If you need anything, just call!"

"Can I have a vheelchair, maybe?" Dagmar said.

"Oh! Of course!" Thirty seconds later another nurse-type lady was pushing Dagmar up the hall whilst I followed pushing our cart 'o crap.

Home Sveet Home

"I can't believe they're letting you go home," I said to Dagmar as we pulled into our driveway. "Didn't your surgeon explicitly say you'd be there until Monday or Tuesday?"

"Yeah, dat's vhat she said, but I'm NOT going to stay with dat nurse again. If the doctor on call said I go home, I go home."

That was all a little more than a week ago now. Since Dagmar's been home I haven't seen that look of pain on her face, not even once. By the next afternoon she was up and valking half a block up the street and back. We've had lots of visitors and flowers -- including a bunch of flowers from St. Luke's with a note, "Sorry your visit wasn't what you expected." To me that translates into "Please don't sue us."

We're sorely disappointed with St. Luke's. The prep nurses and surgical team were fantastic, and the lady that took care of our room, Donna, was fantastic. But the nursing staff on that floor seemed, by and large, rude. Nurse Prune in particular seemed happy to let a patient suffer because it "wasn't her job" to do anything but take notes and sniff unhappily. My buddy Schroeder was good, but we only saw him for ten minutes. We're not going to go to St. Luke's again if we have a choice in the matter.

Dagmar's perforated vein (from the IV they failed to maintain) has healed, thankfully. She does have a bladder infection (caused, maybe, by a catheter left in for three days without any cleaning?) to deal with, but that'll pass. For someone who had three surgeons stretching her intestines halfway across the operating room, Dagmar's doing VERY well! She's so much happier now. She's still weak and has pain now and then, but another month at home and she should be back at work.

And that's that!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


It went well!

Three surgeons spent over an hour playing around with Dagmar's innards, but everything went well. No complications, no surprises, full recovery expected!

I'm so happy!

She'll be in the hospital for a few days yet, then she'll need the usual six to eight weeks recovery time... But she's doing great!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nervous Babbling


...Dagmar has her surgery. I've not been productive lately. Hard to concen... concent...


Hey, yesterday, or maybe the day before, Mozilla released FireFox 3.0 -- their newest Innernet browser. I've been a FireFox user for years. I don't much care for MicroSoft products (I don't like their corporate strategy, but more importantly I *think* they have more security holes than Mac or open source software), and Mac's browser, though faster'n heck, seems kinda drab to me. So I use FireFox.

Okay, so go download it already. The update really seems to be a considerable update -- it loads pages noticeably faster. It's worth trying, in my opinion.

Okay, then when you've got FireFox 3 installed, go install a plugin called PicLens. It does WAY cool things to Picasa's online albums (mine are at http://picasaweb.google.com/cradloff by the way) and (I guess) YouTube. I've been playing with it for at least 27 seconds now and I don't see anything but coolness. I'm sure there will be a downside, but it's neat anyway...


I'm still nerved out about Dagmar's surgery. I'm sure she'll be okay, but will she be in pain? Will the doctors treat her respectfully? Will she be comfortable? Have we saved enough money? Do we have enough credit? Will my boss let me off work? Will she be okay? Will she be in pain? Will the doctors treat her respectfully...?


Cute, for a while...

Mama rabbit dug a hole in my yard. Lo and behold a week or so later we had two baby bunnies hopping around the yard. Cute little buggars. We enjoyed peeking at them about every half hour to see how they were getting along... It was fun watching them explore the yard.

But the neighbor's cat got 'em. One bunny disappeared, the other showed up on the neighbor's doorstep, accompanied by said cat. All accounts are that the bunny was unhurt -- the kitty may have been trying to adopt the baby bunny. But the neighbors figgered the cat would probably keep harassing the bunny, so they let the rabbit go down by the creek where the kitty may not find him.

Odd -- when I lived on the farm, rabbits were viewed as lunch (pass the salt please). Now that I live in town they represent "the great outdoors" to me, and I find myself treating them as pets and wishing them well...

But but but but it's FREE!

How Not to Run a Concert Series

A buddy of mine started a web site recently aimed to promote local art and music. In my last post you heard me whining about a series of concerts in Sioux City over the summer months, supposedly to promote interest in the local music scene even though they only hire one local band each year to participate... Anyway, my buddy with the web site e-mailed the Sioux City Chamber of Commerce (who's sponsoring the concert series) and said, "Hey, I have an online calendar. I'd like to include your concert series so people know what's going on. Is that okay?" He got an answer back saying "I'm sorry, we're not interested in that sort of thing."

So, they'll complain if no one shows up to the concerts, but they won't let people put their info on a FREE calendar. Seems like a strange way to promote music. "Hey, we're having a concert, but don't tell anyone..."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Local Ineptitude

Hey, We're Talented. Really, We Are.

This past winter I was in a leadership class here in Sioux City. On one of the sessions a lady from the Chamber of Commerce got up and gave a "rah-rah" speech detailing how Sioux City was an up-and-coming area and had a lot to be proud of... "One of the ways we promote the arts and local talent here in Siouxland is through the 'Fridays on the Promenade' series where we showcase local bands every Friday afternoon in the summer," she said. "We're proud of our local artists and want to use them to revitalize the downtown district."

As I listened to her I caught myself wondering how many local bands actually played at the Promenade the year before. I could only think of one, and if memory serves they were a last-minute substitution for an act out of Chicago or something. Her remark stuck in my mind.

I just saw the schedule for this year's Promenade, featuring local talent to showcase the city... There's ONE guy from the Sioux City area on the list. One local artist. The rest are from way far away and have no connection to Sioux City.

And people around here wonder why the art and music scene is dying a slow death on the vine... Local artists get no support from the community even at events promoting local art! It's frustrating.

And before you say things like, "well, they probably got the best musicians available," lemme tell you that some of the musicians from Sioux City ARE among the best available. I'm not saying the local talent is better than what the city hired, but the local guys truly are a lot better than people suspect.

At times I'm happy I'm not in a band any more...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Use Your Brain, Dammit

Absolutely THE most disgusting thing I've seen all year

If you're read this blog for long you know I'm a member of the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). The group was organized several years ago when a Baptist church in Kansas started picketing and protesting at soldiers' funerals. The church isn't protesting the Iraq war at the funerals, but rather homosexuality. They hold signs saying thing like "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God Your Son is Dead," their reasoning being that since homosexuality is not illegal in the United States, anyone who defends the U.S. is damned and will go to hell. Seeing the church protesting, and the pain on the families' faces as they bury their soldier, the PGR formed -- a group of bikers (quite a few of whom are veterans) who stand between the protesters and the family, hoping both to maintain the dignity of the ceremony and to honor the soldier.

Okay, that's the background.

Last Wednesday a tornado went through a Boy Scout camp just south of Sioux City, killing four boys. The whole area is in mourning. Last night when I got home from work I had an e-mail from a friend saying the Baptist church had released a press release saying they're gonna protest the Boy Scouts' funerals.

I'll say this again. The church is protesting at four Boy Scouts' funerals.

This is a new low. I simply cannot believe this is happening.

I contacted the PGR, but it turns out there's nothing the organization can do -- "we're not a counter-protest group, we exist to help honor fallen soldiers." Okay, I can understand that... It sucks, but I can understand it. I called the national Boy Scout council (with some help from a buddy with a phone number) and told them what was going to happen. There was stunned silence on the other end of the line.

I still wish there could be something we could do to stop these people from ruining the last memories the families will have of their boys. I'm absolutely flabbergasted by this whole thing.

I'm not sure, but I sure like to believe that Jesus' main message was of TOLERANCE. Seems like the Westboro Baptist Church thinks they can read God's mind somehow... The arrogance is appalling, the actions abhorrent.

The funerals will be held Monday and Tuesday. Two will be in Omaha, Nebraska, one in West Point, Nebraska, and one in Texas. The Boy Scouts of America are taking donations if anyone's intersted.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Thoughts

Life in Iowa

As I mentioned in my last post, there were 30+ tornadoes that touched down near Sioux City last Wednesday night. Thankfully my family and friends are all okay as far as I can tell. Sadly there were four casualties, all Boy Scouts, and there are still people in the hospital.

The flooding that's in the news hasn't hit us yet. We're on the West Coast of Iowa. Sioux City straddles the borders between Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Most of the heavy flooding is in Eastern and Central Iowa. It's sure causing a lot of damage... I shudder to think what this is going to do to the price of corn and soy in the fall.

Stolen from Steakbellie

I just got back from a quick trip to Steakbellie's blog. He has a link to a very powerful comic site. He said he got to page 2 before he choked up and had to quit. I made it to page three, barely. I'm going to have to finish it when I get home so I can cry in peace whilst reading it...

Go HERE. Read slowly. Think of the people, the emotion.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Somber Time

The numbers are still coming in, but last I heard on TV was that there were 32 tornado touchdowns in the area. Four are dead and 40 injured from the Boy Scout camp just south of here. There are people missing, search parties out, the National Guard has been activated. The hospitals were on full disaster alert, treating the injured. The helicopters were bringing in survivors. The line at the Blood Bank was over a block long as people ran to help. The Siouxland Blood Bank will be open 24 hours; one official estimated more than 500 people will donate blood tonight. Over half of Iowa is already considered a disaster zone due to flooding, now this...

Monday, June 09, 2008

An Austrian What...?


In and amongst the various groups I associate with is a group of motorcyclists in the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota area that rides together very occasionally. We keep in touch mostly through Yahoo Groups, a fancy e-mail list.

I have to admit, I haven't been real active in the group the past few years, but I still thought I knew most of the people. My wife Dagmar (who grew up in Vienna, that's important to know) and I do try to go to at least one or two of the group's functions every year, so we've met just about everyone in person at one point or another. Anyway...

In an e-mail to the group I mentioned that I couldn't attend a rally in a few weeks because "my beloved Austrian Snickerdoodle is having an operation."

One of the guys wrote back, "I'm sorry to hear about your puppy! I hope he's better soon. I've never heard of an Austrian Snickerdoodle. Is that a hunting dog?"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What dog breed are you? I'm a Golden Retriever! Find out at Dogster.com

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Art in the City

The Best Gallery in Town

When people talk about art in Sioux City, two things come immediately to mind. The first thought is, "You're new here, aren't you?" The second is the city's most active art gallery, conveniently located on bridges and brick walls throughout the neighborhood.

Let me walk you through some of the better pieces and the styles they represent.


As you can see by the piece above, the main emphasis is on clarity. Simple lines and simple, clean strokes make this easy to take in at a glance. The use of a single color gives the impression of being rushed, of lurking in abandon parking lots in the middle of the night. The point of this piece is immediately apparent and cannot be mistaken -- the Gangster Disciples have marked this abandoned building as their territory, and evidently see value in it. The way the piece is situated on the back wall of the building facing an abandoned parking lot expresses fearlessness -- the artist obviously wasn't afraid of the dark and chose to do his work away from the spotlight and glare of the street.

The Humorously Rich

This example has several elements working for it. Obviously the artist had a keen sense of humor expressed by his redefining the word "stop" as "don't go." I laughed the whole time I watched the city crew replace the sign at taxpayer expense. It's worth it, though. The government needs to support art through subsidies such as giving artists fresh canvases to work with. I really don't mind my taxes being raised to support art such as this.

Early Stylism

Things start to get interesting with this piece. Note how the color was specifically chosen to contrast with the background? The first thing one might notice is the angularity of the letters, rendering the piece barely legible. This was done on purpose by the artist (obviously a fan of the West Side Locos), and should be considered as an artistic choice made to represent anger -- obviously directed at Record Printing Company. One imagines the artist receiving blurry business cards from the printing company and plotting this intricate form of expressing his or her displeasure. Sublimity elegantly rendered.

Sophomore Stylisim

Found prominently hung under a bridge over a drainage canal, this piece represents the next step in stylism. Note the three-dimensional aspect of the letters, giving the impression of solidity. Also pay attention to the subtle shading of the letters. This artist, who is most likely a fan of MS 13, chose to utilize a simple black motif, eschewing any complimentary colors in the pursuit of simplicity. (You'll notice a common thread of simplicity through ALL the exhibits. It seems being simple is a theme all these particular artists strive to emulate.)

Classic Stylism

This fine piece is notable for two things. The first is the artist's choice of location. The artist chose to place this piece under a railroad bridge, directly over a foot path where no vehicles can go. This was done not out of fear but rather from the confidence that the audience would go to the work. The second notable aspect of this piece is the classical representation of the letters, carefully and painstakingly drawn. The artist is telling us that for one reason or another, he obviously has time on his hands to complete such a piece. He's probably wealthy from selling other pieces, I imagine.

The Commentary

This piece, while exhibiting signs of Early Stylism, also offers us another aspect to art. While the fan of the West Side Locos chose white paint to contrast with the bridge the artist chose as a canvas, the fan of MS 13 chose BLACK paint in their comment to the piece. (Note -- this is the first example of Commentary, but this is actually the most common subgenre in town. You'll often see a piece crossed out and redesigned by another artist.) Another aspect of this particular piece is that it's found on the outside girder of a bridge where it remains unseen by the casual motorist crossing the bridge, but can be seen and enjoyed by neighbors of the bridge for miles around.

The Story

This is the least common style in town, but is impressive when seen, though considered elitist by other artists. The artist is obviously flaunting his or her education by utilizing full words rather than initials. Again, this is rare, and is a difficult thing to accomplish.

All in all, Sioux City has a well-rounded stable of up-and-coming artists, and should be considered one of the midwest's "hotspots" for this particular genre.

Whoopie Wednesday

An open letter:

Dear Ms. Clinton,

You lost. Please go away now. You're making a fool of yourself.

Thank you,

The NASA Approach to Alternate Fuels and How That's Bad

There are several ways to approach the energy crisis, and I believe we're going about this the wrong way. I'm a color-blind guy with a degree in history who has worked as a graphic designer for the last couple decades, so I'm not real qualified to talk about engineering. But I'm gonna.

It seems to me that the way to design something (an electric motorcycle, for example) would be to build a couple scale models of the motorcycle, then build three or four prototypes with the full expectation of destroying most of them in testing. You build a full-scale model, then you run it until it fails so you know where the weak point in the design is -- might be the new motor, might be the engine mounting, you'll never know until you try it.

From what I understand from my three minutes of diligent research, this has been the way people have been engineering and designing things for quite some time, and the system works.

Until... Until the United States decided to build a space shuttle, lo those many years ago. Such a big project, such high stakes, but yet did we built prototypes? No... There were NO tests. When we sent the first shuttle up, it was truly the first shuttle, and there were real people in there.

In the 1950s and 60s, when we were in the midst of the Apollo project, we sent up smaller rockets first and watched how they worked. Then we built bigger rockets. Then we put a man in orbit. Then we built yet bigger rockets. The point being that we went one step at a time -- we did NOT decide one day to send a man to the moon and immediately start building the finished rocket.

But in the 70s when we decided to scrap the rocket system in favor of the space shuttle, we simply built a shuttle and threw it into the air. No unmanned missions, no shuttles tested to destruction to find the weak point... The result? Through rigorous mathematics, computer modeling, and all the diligence NASA can put towards a project, the shuttle did, indeed work! It worked until the O-rings failed on takeoff one day in the 80s and blew a shuttle to bits, killing the entire crew. This failure probably would have come out in testing, had they tested actual designs to failure. They fixed it and went on with the project, which worked fine until a shuttle disintegrated on reentry over Texas, killing the entire crew.

The shuttle is as safe as they can make it, and does have a good safety record in light of how incredibly complicated the shuttle is and how dangerous space flight is. The problem is that they went about it wrong. They should have built shuttles and tested them to failure. Rather they went through incredible pains to get it perfect the first time, and were under enormous pressure to get it right without testing.

Okay... so what's my point?

It seems that many engineering projects have been stuck in the "shuttle mode" ever since then.

I saw a show on television yesterday that mentioned putting undersea turbines off the Florida coast. The theory is simple -- put some turbines in the gulf coast and let the ocean currents do the work, creating electricity. Why hasn't this already been done? No one wants to go small-scale with the project... Instead of building a few of these undersea turbines at 1/5th scale and putting them beside the dock and seeing how they work, they're hoping to develop an entire grid of turbines, anchored to the sea floor 150 miles below (or however deep the ocean is... a hundred miles? Fifteen yards? I dunno, I'm from Iowa), already fully developed and ready to go on the grid. The problem with that is that it's horribly expensive to build a full-blown system like that from scratch, so no one's done it yet, even though Florida sucks an inordinate amount of energy from the nation's resources to run their air conditioners AND they have an unlimited amount of energy sitting just offshore...

Another example is with wind turbines. The big power companies have spent zillions of dollars building huge wind turbines to put in the midwest (where the wind comes sweeping down the plains). They started with commercial-grade turbines. Big honkin' things. Huge. And they've gotten bigger. It's hard to wrap your head around how huge these turbines are...

Okay, this is fine and dandy. But wind power is still only contributing a small fraction of the nation's energy.

Here's an idea. Instead of trying to build a big system of underwater turbines and continuing with the huge corporate wind farms, why not let us individual people have these things?

Release the technology to the public. Give some incentive to a couple companies to start making small wind turbines that a person can put on their house.* Make small undersea turbines that a marina operator (for example) can put in an out-of-the-way place to create some energy for his operation. Get a couple hundred thousand of these out into the public and let US test the technology. Tweak the system as it works on a small scale. Let people tinker with the system. See what happens.

Once people see that underwater generators really do work, you'll be able to get more investors to buy into your dream of building a big huge system to power the entire state. Don't try to create an infrastructure out of thin air.

Alternative fuels is too important for us to do it wrong.

*I know, there are companies like PacWind making small wind turbines that can go on someone's house. The problem is that there aren't enough of these companies, and the technology is too expensive. Incentives, anyone?

If I Were Magically In Charge of Things Around Here

1. If I were in charge of things here in Sioux City, I'd make it a rule that every new structure built in the city with a flat roof be "greenified." Regular ol' tar roofs can get up to 140+ degrees in the summer, which makes it miserably expensive to air-condition the building. Instead, put three or four inches of good soil up there on the roof and plant native prairie grasses. This will decrease the temperature of the roof, make heating and cooling much easier, will aid enormously in water control (let the plants and soil hold the water for a few days after a rain, gradually letting the moisture evaporate rather than depending on storm sewers sending the water straight into the river), will give some ecosystem back to the native birds 'n bugs, and the plants will help filter some of the pollution out of the air. This costs a little more as you need to make sure your roof can handle the weight, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

2. I'd make the city engineer go through every existing building with a flat room to see how they can put a garden on the existing roof. You have, oh, six years to retrofit your flat room to accommodate a garden covering, oh, sixty percent of the area of your roof. Extra tax credits if you make your roof entirely green.

3. Sell the city buses. Buy new buses that are environmentally friendly (hybrids or biodiesel at the least). Instead of having, for example, twenty big buses, buy thirty smaller buses and add some new routes. Build secure areas on some of the routes where people can safely leave their bicycles or cars when they get on the bus.

4. Make the downtown area more foot and bicycle friendly and less car friendly. Oddly, the bicycle paths in the city do NOT go to the downtown district, and it's miserable trying to cross a downtown street on foot. The city is, as we speak, planning to tear out a pedestrian park to build a street, hoping to lure more people downtown by making the area easier to navigate by car. This is backwards to me... Instead, make it easier to park your car and walk.

5. Tax vehicles by mileage. If your car gets 20 miles per gallon you pay more for your car than the guy with a 50 mpg hybrid. If you own a 5 mpg truck, you get taxed quite a bit, but that's okay as if you own a truck you're obviously using it for business purposes and are making money with the vehicle so you can afford to pay more. (Here's something to consider as you're shooting this one down: Gas prices are rising due to supply and demand. The more gas we demand, the more we pay. Okay, fine... The problem is that if you drive a huge ol' SUV to work every day, you demand more gas than I do in my little bitty car -- which drives MY fuel prices up. In effect, those who use more gas pay the same price per gallon as those who use less, so there's no penalty for using more gas if you can afford it. This proposed tax would even out the playing field a bit. If you demand more fuel you pay higher taxes.)

6. City bikes. Put some butt-ugly bicycles out there that are free for everyone to use. Make 'em ugly so no one will steal them... Put a small tracker on it so you can tell if someone's taking a bike home with them at night or is keeping a bike. Keep them by the parking ramps so people can park their cars and ride the bikes through the downtown area.

7. Truck and SUV free zones. If you have a truck or SUV, park it in one of the parking ramps and walk the rest of the way, ride a bike or catch a bus. It's hard to see around you in traffic, it's hard to see around you when you're parked, its hard to see through the fog behind you... You're free to own whatever vehicle you want, but you're a menace to public safety. Please consider leaving your guzzler in the parking ramp where it won't bother anyone and walk the last two blocks to the bank.

8. The energy company shall NOT have a monopoly. If I want to make my own energy, the government shall reward me for doing so, and the energy company can NOT punish me for that. Currently it's actually illegal around here to have your own wind turbine. The power company has actually made a farmer take his turbine down, forcing him to buy electricity from them. Now I want to know just where in the Constitution it guarantees a corporation a profit... If the power companies find themselves obsolete in a few years, that's THEIR problem. They're the ones who should be making personal turbines and selling them to us, NOT trying to stop the technology.

I fully realize that there are holes in each and every one of these proposals. I haven't thought ANY of them through to their logical conclusion. My point is that we need to start thinking this way...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Small Thoughts


We have a rabbit in our yard. She's bravely sitting on the hole she dug a day or two ago... She won't move. I'm sure she has kits under there, little babies. She dug the hole in a strange place, right out in the open, near the chain-link fence by the sidewalk. If she'd chosen her hole on the other side of our yard she'd have two bolt-holes nearby (we have a rickety wooden fence on that side) and more privacy. But I'm sure she knows what she's doing.

Dagmar put a few carrots out for her. It'll be interesting to see if the carrots are gone in the morning. I'm a bit worried about the black kitty that's been prowling around, too. With luck Mama Bunny can handle herself...


Home from the vet, the little kitty Fruitloop, and recovering. He doesn't seem to mind getting the insulin shots... This may sound cruel, but I really wish he'd squawk or squirm a little when the needle pokes him -- he takes it so calmly it makes both Dagmar and I wonder if the shot is actually getting under his skin or if we're just squirting insulin on his fur.

He's really angry about his new diet. He gets a quarter-cup of food in the morning and a quarter-cup at night, which is considerably less than he's used to having. We always just filled his food bowl to the top and kept it more or less full constantly so he could eat at his leisure. The poor little guy's not adjusting well. He sat by his food dish for three straight hours today, looking miserable, occasionally licking the side of the dish. He'll come to the computer room, bite my pantleg and try to lead me to his food bowl...


I'm on vacation through Wednesday night. The original plan was for me to go fishing with Pops in Minnesota, but with the vet bill and Dagmar's impending surgery (June 19th) I've opted to stay home for my spring vacation and try to get as much freelance work done as I can... With luck I can get both my vacation pay and earn some money on the side and "double up" as much as I can.

I might be working, but I'm still gonna count this as a vacation. I'll be home for three days where I can choose to ignore the phone if I want, I can sip on a beer in the afternoon whilst working, and I can go for a bike ride at lunch time if I want. As long as I get the work done I'm free to enjoy the day.

Dry Creek Music Festival

Mat d and the Profane Saints

Yesterday I was kinda bummed. I was hoping to go on a poker-style run* a friend of mine was sponsoring, but circumstances dictated I'd miss the beginning and end of the ride. (It was for a good cause. A lady my friend knows was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her insurance company pre-approved treatment, so she started on the chemotherapy and whatnot. After several treatments her insurance company was taken over in a hostile takeover. The new owners denied her coverage, AFTER she'd already started the life-saving treatment. So she thought she was covered, but corporate greed and deregulation effectively ruined her life. To add insult to injury, she lost her job too. So the poor lady has a life-threatening disease, horribly expensive payments, and no job. Hence the fundraiser.

Anyway, I couldn't make the beginning of the ride, so I thought I'd hook up with the run as it went through the neighboring town of Akron and follow the guys for a stop or two. I tootled down the road to Akron, enjoying the beautiful day. Once there I realized I was ahead of the herd, so I sat in the local Legion Hall and had a nice beverage whilst I awaited the thunder of motorcycles. A beautiful day, a nice ride on the bike, a cold beverage, how could this get better?

A guy at the end of the bar stood up. "Well, I'm outta here," he told the barmaid. "That Dry Creek Music Festival in Hawarden is gonna start in an hour. I gotta go home and get cleaned up before I go see the bands play..."

Music Festival? In an hour? Ten miles away? I'm there! I dropped off a donation for the poker run with instructions to give the dough to Beek and ran out the door, hopped on my bike and roared off to Hawarden.

I only got to see two bands, the Matt Hittle Blues Band and Mat d and the Profane Saints. The Matt Hittle Blues Band played well; I'd recommend going to see them if you get a chance, but I was really excited to see the Profane Saints. I'm pals with most of the guys, and I used to be in a band with the drummer a couple years ago. They're a helluva band! Go see 'em play. Go to their website. Listen to their stuff. It's worth it... (Here are some pictures.)

*A poker run, for those of you who might not know, is a fundraiser where bikers all sign in at a starting point (usually a bar) where they toss in some money (usually $20 or so) and are given a score sheet and a map. There are generally five stops on a poker run spanning a distance of 100 to 125 miles or so. The biker heads off to the next location on the map (usually a watering hole of some sort), where the bartender will certify that the biker was, indeed, there. Then the biker will draw a card from a deck and the bartender will write the card on the scoresheet (two of clubs, six of spades, etc.). After five stops, the biker has a scoresheet with five cards. At the end of the run the motorcycle enthusiast with the highest poker hand wins a percentage of the entry fee money, and the rest of the moolah goes to the charity agreed upon. Most winners will keep five or ten bucks to buy a celebratory drink or two with and donate the rest back to the cause. It's a good deal, so of course the government has tried to stop it... According to Iowa law a poker run is the moral equivalent of gambling, so people have come up with inventive variations to keep the spirit of the traditional poker run alive without having to pay for a gambling license and pay a tax on moneys taken in.


Parkersburg, Iowa

A friend of mine has been helping in Parkersburg, IA after the tornadoes last weekend. He sent me some photos... It's amazing to see little lumps of debris and realize each little lump used to be a home.

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