Monday, January 16, 2017

Like the man says: get back... get back to where you once belonged


Last night, I had the good fortune of having a long phone chat with my old (and once upon a time) very good friend Don.  The last time we’d spoken was in December 2012; the time before that was when we met up for dinner in the summer of 2009, and the time before that was in 2007, when he’d just turned 55 and told me he was quitting his IT job with PNC Bank in pursuit of early retirement.

My former office at UPMC

I first met Don way back in 1990, when I landed my first IT job as a computer consultant for the Dept of Aging.  We were put on the same project, but I was fresh out of school and a complete newbie; Don was 11 years older and forced to deal with someone with a lot of questions!

But we seemed to hit it off right away.  We were both loners of sorts and enjoyed, worried & fumed about the same things.  (We’d often sit in Arby’s or Roy Rogers yelling at each other—“this isn’t healthy!”)  Besides lunches and chats in the office, we’d get together every couple weeks, see a movie, have a late dinner and rant to one another on what was wrong with our company, the government, society, ourselves…. man those were some good times!

Don pays me a visit in my new apartment in Bellevue, 1995

Our get-togethers got less often after Don met & married his wonderful wife Patti in 2000; by then we were on different contracts and different companies.  But we still managed to meet for lunch once a week to complain about our respective out-of-shape selves & catch each other up on the latest.  (It just occurred to me that we were never big on email… haha)

So last night, after giving Don a brief run-down on what’s been going on in my neck of the woods, he said “Doug—wait ‘till you hear what’s been happening with me!”  He told me his early retirement was just that—too early.  “Doug the first year was great!  But I don’t play golf, I don’t have any hobbies… there’s only so much tv you can watch or walks you can take… after the second year I was so bored, I’d had it!”   I sat here nodding my head, I got it.  He then went on to tell me about finding some part-time work: a bookstore, Macy’s, even one where he drove to various supermarkets to set up cookie displays!  But they were all minimum wage & too physically demanding, and after a year he was back to his old retired self.  

When I told Don I was sorry things didn’t work out, he said “well… it took awhile, but they did.  Guess what I’m doing now—I’m back to computer programming!”  After he gave me the run-down on his current gig, he said “I think you’re on the same path I was on, and if you don’t mind me giving you some advice… I know you’re dealing with that TMJ, so get yourself better.  Then I’d suggest you get back to Pittsburgh.  I think it’s where you belong.  If you don’t want to work and don’t have to, that’s your choice, but I think you could easily find another IT job downtown.”

I thanked Don for our long chat and his words of wisdom, and we promised to talk again in two weeks.  (I really hope we do.)  The truth is, as I’ve recently told others, I’ve been feeling out-of-sorts and homesick for my former life in the city.  I’m not sorry I moved back to my hometown… at the time it felt right.  But I left here nearly 30 years ago and I’m not the same Doug I was then.  I’d like to think I’m the one in that picture at the top.  I need to find him again.

Original Painting entitled The Red Man in Journey Native American Art Native American Paintings Painting Santa Clara Pueblo Helen Hardin Tsa-Sah-Wee-Eh Little Standing Spruce

Monday, January 9, 2017

The joke’s on one of us, TMJ... but I’d rather it be on you than me

The other night an old friend wrote me a very kind letter, said he’d been catching up on things with me through my blog and was sorry about the TMJ. 

I’ve known him for 10 years, but we never met in person; we met online through a comic book message board we both frequented.  I stopped contributing there a few years ago, but we’ve stayed connected over the years (ahem, Facebook) and his letter brought back a lot of good memories.  So much so, that he put me in the mood to read some old comics, so I went on Read Comics Online (an awesome, awesome website filled with new & vintage comic books to read—for free!) and was perusing an old Batman comic from the 1970s when I came across a disturbing panel showing one of the Joker’s victims.  Hit with poisonous gas, the poor man collapses to the floor—he’s dead as a doornail, but not before the gas twists the muscles in his face into a creepy, maniacal grin.  You gotta see it to believe it.

jokers poison gas


Yep, this is what us kids were reading in the 1970s

As I’m sitting here reading this crazy-ass story while gently massaging the sides of my face and lower jaw—my own facial muscles sore and swollen from this freaking TMJ—I slowly tried to mimic this dude’s sick grin.  Not just a smile, but a big Joker-grin.  There was a soft, palpable “crackling” sound in the muscles on both sides of my face and my eyes widened and I quickly dropped the sides of my mouth.  But for the first time in many a moon, I felt some small, brief relief.   I did it again, counted to 15—relaxed.  Again, some relief.

Doug, sorry you’re suffering—but why are you sharing this?  Um…. in case there’s someone out there with atrophied muscles in their face like mine?  I dunno, I just feel the need to vent, rant, whatever.  I’m still in disbelief that my jaw got so out of whack this past summer, or that it would last this long.  I’ve spent many nights reading up on temporomandibular jaw disorder and the only thing I know for certain is that no one REALLY knows how to fix it.  (There’s plenty of neuromuscular dentists out there who say they can, and even more TMJ sufferers insisting they can’t.)  Oral surgeons recommend steroid or Botox injections into the joints, or surgery (naturally) but the official TMJ website sternly warns against such treatments and says they can cause irreversible damage that will last a lifetime.  It adds that 4 out of 5 sufferers will heal on their own, you just have to give it plenty of time. 

So I’m doing just that, consoling myself with the words of a retired oral surgeon who looked at mine and said “yours is fairly severe, but still on the low end of the spectrum for surgery.”   So for the time being, I’m just going to continue with the exercises shown me (from a very kind physical therapist & friend of my sister Shawn) and wear my big oral splint to bed every night & remain optimistic. 

I could say that at the very least this TMJ has given me something to smile about… but that would be crazy!