Travelogue layover

by the Night Writer

Marjorie and I have had a great first day in Budapest. I was planning to share my impressions and photos with you here, but I’m having a little issue with importing images into the template. I’m using my iPad, and I think I can solve this by switching to the laptop – but that requires accessories that are up in the hotel room where Marjorie is sleeping, and it won’t bode well for a great second day in Budapest if I wake her. So that travel post will be delayed … call it a “layover” if you will.

In its place I’ll provide a summary of the 29 hours it took for us to get here. Don’t worry – this will go by much faster (and I hope more entertainingly) than what we experienced.

First of all, Marjorie (aka “The Reverend Mother” in these parts of the blog-world) found this Budapest/Prague trip on Groupon. It was a great deal, costing only a few hundred dollars more than our round-trip airfare for the two of us just to get to Prague, with the bonus of three days in Budapest plus accommodations and services in Prague. The only issue was that the deal was based on flying in and out of Chicago. Not a big deal, we could rent a car one-way affordably enough, even if it meant factoring a 7-hour drive at each end. The day before we left though, the travel company offering the voucher called to tell us that due to the Lufthansa strike (we were scheduled to fly Lufthansa from Chicago to Munich and then onto Budapest), they had booked us on a United flight – but leaving at 6:15 p.m. instead of 9:35 p.m.

So Marjorie was at the rental office at MSP airport at 7 a.m. We made it to O’Hare in plenty of time. As we walked and wobbled through the airport (guess which of us was which) with our pile of luggage (including all the stuff that Patience couldn’t fit into her suitcases but would still need for a two-year stay in the Czech Republic) we were collected by a young man pushing an empty wheelchair who offered to get us through the check-in process. I’m getting along pretty well these days, but I still use my cane and braces for longer jaunts (like airports). This young man was a god-send, not only did he move my carcass and all our luggage, we were expedited to be next in the check-in line. Here we found out that, again due to the strike, our Chicago to Munich leg was now a Chicago to London trip…with a 10-hour layover at Heathrow. The agent made multiple attempts to get us there more quickly but there were no better options (especially with some 100,000+ ex-Lufthansa passengers all scrambling for different flights.)  Oh well, we’re still getting there, and we’ll have some time in London.

Upon boarding our flight we saw that our tickets were “economy”, which wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that the plane’s bulkhead extended under the seat in front of me, taking up half the space available for my feet. This was not a pleasant prospect for an overnight, overseas flight. In addition we were surrounded by Putin Youth, tween-aged Russian boys who were not evil, per se, but were bouncing around, trading seats and generally being hyper, tween-age boys. When the crew announced that there were seats available in Economy Plus for a mere $129 each I was on that like a duck on a june bug. As we repositioned ourselves the flight attendant said they were kind of busy with take-off and other duties and that they’d come back by later and collect my credit card info for the upgrades. I guess they were really, really busy all flight, though, because they never came back around other than to give us wine, a three-course upgraded meal, and show me how to operate the movie screen in the back of the seat in front of me. And I didn’t want to be a nag about it.

At Heathrow, with thoughts of a London walk-about in our heads, we found out that they no longer offer a held luggage service, according to the woman at the information desk (and contrary to what Trip Advisor says). While our main luggage was checked through to Budapest, we still had our carry-ons and didn’t feel like clearing Immigration and then tooling around London dragging our rollers. There was no option but to spend a tedious day waiting for our 6:05 p.m. flight.

Sitting guard. Heathrow layover.

Sitting guard. Heathrow layover.

In addition, before we could “lounge”, we had to clear security again because we were switching from United to British Airways. You should understand that it takes a lot of energy for me to motorvate from place to place. Being an exothermic kind of guy anyway, even a short “walk” makes me pretty sweaty. It’s also a hassle to take my shoes off because the braces are very slippery on hard floors. In Chicago the TSA sensibly understood the situation and (since I’d been wheeled there I was cool, calm and collected) and I’d merely been swabbed and scanned. A wheelchair wasn’t handy at Heathrow, and it’s one of the most far-flung airport layouts I’ve ever seen. By the time I got to Security I was a flop-sweaty, profiler’s dream. It took a little more explaining but fortunately I did end up with a similar review as Chicago and not in rendition.

After that the day was uneventful – grindingly tedious, but uneventful. We boarded our flight about 8 hours later than the originally scheduled one, and instead of reaching Budapest in the afternoon we cruised in under cover of darkness – a darkness that permitted a magical glimpse of what was in store for us. More about that in the next post.

Blowing the dust off


A bit dusty in here. Still, everything looks to be reasonably functional in the old Night Writer HQ. Update a few plug-ins, clear out some spam, freshen up the theme, a little Lemon Pledge – and we’re back in business.

It may be a limited engagement, but I’ve pulled the sheets off the the furniture and fittings of the old blog in order to add a new chapter of the “Nights on the Road” series as we launch into a new adventure, based in a new city: Prague in the Czech Republic. As I write this, the Reverend Mother, Tiger Lilly and I are preparing to leave the country on an extended journey. Tiger Lilly is embarking on a new career and life in Prague, and my wife and I are going along for the first two months to usher her out of the nest in style. Some folks have asked for a public website to follow the account of this latest expedition and re-opening this blog is the easiest way to do this, allowing us to write more creatively and extensively than on Facebook. I’ll post photos and possibly even videos along with my writerly observations, and hopefully the Rev. Mum and TL will contribute as well. Heck, we may even see the Mall Diva check in, all the way from Iowa, Land of Mystery.

As for the last five years of blog silence, let me explain. No, there is to much. Let me sum up.

The Mall Diva was last seen here leaving for Iowa with her husband, Son@Night, and their child, Baby Moose. That little family unit is significantly bigger now with the addition of another son and two daughters, collectively referred to as “the Moosen”. Son@Night has another flock as well, the congregation he is pastoring amidst the rolling hills of soybeans, corn and the tour buses of presidential candidates.

The Reverend Mother is now a part-time graphic designer and full-time minister and associate pastor at our church and still ripping around the countryside on her motorcycle, which I believe she had just acquired right about the time we stopped updating this blog.

Tiger Lilly has used the intervening time to win a couple more writing awards while earning her B.A. in English at age 20. For the last two years or so she has been aiming toward this move to Prague where she hopes to be certified to teach English as a Foreign Language, along (hopefully) with some freelance editing.

I’m happy to say we’ve stayed in regular contact with many of our blogging friends from the old days, and we’ve continued to visit Keegan’s Irish Pub often. Keegan’s was Tiger Lilly’s choice for the site of her send-off part last week and most of the old crowd was there for the occasion.

Send off

As for me, there’s not much to report aside from being diagnosed with ALS, retiring from my job, being “un-diagnosed” (and miraculously healed) from ALS and un-retiring. You can follow that whole story on the new blog I launched in April of 2014 to chronicle that experience, No Longer I Who Live. (The first post on that blog is here.) When I came back to work it was with the same employer but in a new role that has me supporting the company globally rather than a single business unit in Minnesota. Because my  management and internal clients are located in distant cities I’m able to work from home – and home is essentially anywhere I have WiFi, which includes Prague. This enables me to set up my office in Prague and anywhere else we may travel over the next few months. I’ll definitely be taking some time off over the course of this adventure, but I’ll also be working while TL works on her certification and the Reverend Mother helps her find an apartment.

Stay tuned.

So I had this bird

by Tiger Lilly

She was a beautiful girl, turquoise feathers with a yellow cap (a very rare color for parakeets). My aunt found her after a huge storm in 2005, so I should have named her Gale. I didn’t. I was terrible with names back then, and we just ended up calling her Birdy-Wirdy (we also had a guinea pig named Piggy-Wiggy. We were a creative bunch).

She was six months old when I wheedled my parents into letting me take her in, as her owners were nowhere to be found. I trained her to be comfortable around me. She was a vicious thing, biting was one of her favourite pastimes. There was a point when I had twelve bite marks each on three of my fingers.

I loved her anyway.

She was vocal and wild, yet tender towards me, allowing me to scratch the sides of her face when she was tired. She showed me affection in ways that only a bird could- regurgitating her meals on occasion. Mostly she would simply kiss my face whenever I had her out. I would try and play piano for her every day, something that she (and her playmate, Chiquita, which we rescued a few years after taking in Birdy-Wirdy) greatly enjoyed.

A week or two ago, I noticed that her plumage on her belly near her vent was brown and picked-over. I didn’t really think much of it, as she was acting healthy and just fine. Chiquita had no signs of anything like Birdy-Wirdy had.

This morning, when I gave her water, she drank a bit and was sneezy and tired. I knew something was wrong, but I had to leave for work right away. I had hoped she would be fine until I got home.

She wasn’t.

She was cold in the corner of the cage when I returned. I spent a good half-hour cradling her and sobbing or playing the piano. Eventually, it dawned on me that I should look up her symptoms.

It turns out that they are symptoms of ovarian tumors and/or eggs that have gotten caught in the wrong area. Most people were recommending to take the sick bird to the vet and fix the diet.

Now, I wish that I had thought to look this up when I first saw the feathers, but what’s done is done.

Anyway. If you have a female parakeet and see anything like this, TAKE HER TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY. Don’t leave her be. Birdy-Wirdy was only 7, less than half the lifespan of a parakeet (15 years).

Good night, pretty bird. I love you. Fly high.

What Have They Done?!

by Tiger Lilly

So my father directed me to an article from CBS news, which stated that, contrary to popular belief, chocolate actually helps people maintain a lower Body Mass Index, despite the amount of calories.

I have a problem with this information.

I have heard from other sources that chocolate may become extremely rare and expensive in the next fifty years or so, due to what I’m sure are many good reasons that I was never very sure about.
So if people are writing articles about how chocolate is good for your health and helps you maintain a girlish figure (which I’m sure all you macho men out there are very concerned about), people will be flocking to the chocolate shops in hordes. HORDES, I tell you! And what does that mean? That means chocolate is going to become ever harder to come by, faster! It means that prices of chocolate are going to go even further up, because of the increased demand!


Of course, on the other hand (which is also holding chocolate), people don’t eat healthy foods as often as they should. Maybe, just maybe, since chocolate is now a healthy food, people will lose interest and leave the good stuff for the more devoted chocolate dabblers (myself).

My name is Tiger Lilly, and I am a chocoholic approve this message.

Ciao for now!

Tipping- Not Just For Cows

by Tiger Lilly

As a barista, I feel that it is part of my duty to make sure that the public is informed about tipping. I know that many people are in tough straits money-wise, and that’s why this is merely a guide (and also my own personal opinion). You don’t have to follow it. Really.

I’ll just glare subtly as I whip up your extra-tall raspberry peppermint mocha skim no-whip extra shot latte. And then spit in it.

Okay, so I wouldn’t spit in it.


1. You should almost always tip.

Unless the service is exceptionally poor. Baristas aren’t paid on commission, and some don’t even make minimum wage (same goes for waiters).

2. If the coffee shop is busy and you’ve had to wait in line at least two people, tip.

Please. Maybe this doesn’t go for places like Starbucks or Caribou or shops that get a lot of customers, but I work in a small shop. Less than a hundred people stop in every day. But sometimes, we get those 10+ lunch delivery orders, meanwhile we have three people waiting to be served in the shop, and two at the drive-through, and then there are those caffeine-deprived assassins we have to fight off. I, for one, am someone who is easily stressed. It is not fun to be a stressed barista. We forget things, or miss things, and agility just goes down the drain.

So if we’re balancing all of that, and then don’t get a tip, it makes us very sad.

3. (Related to 2) If it looks like the shop is understaffed, tip.

Oftentimes I am left alone in the shop right before lunch rush while the previous people finishes their shift and the next person has yet to arrive. It is almost inevitable that right away a couple people will come in with large to-go orders.

4. If you need something made in a rush, tip.

Seriously. I did not just make you that mocha, sandwich, and bowl of soup in under five minutes (which is quite a feat when you’re working by yourself) just for you to complain and walk out the door.

Now that we’ve finished that part, time to move on to:

How much to tip.

In restaurants, the general rule of thumb is to tip 15%. If your drink order is $3.03, the tip would be $.46. This is a tip I enjoy getting. I practically dance when I see people put a dollar in the tip jar.

I work in an establishment where there are two people on staff, and they have to split tips. It’s fine because there are only two, but if you walk into a coffee shop where there are four people working and only one tip jar, please tip a little extra if it’s at all viable.

Then there are those people who just drop the coins from their change into the jar. I both love and dislike these people. Sometimes it’s $.92, sometimes it’s $.08. Sometimes people are good about pulling out some more coins from their pockets, but don’t be the person who puts 2 cents in the jar. It’s practically an insult.

Moving on to:

When not to tip.

Amazingly, there are times when you should not tip (or at least tip less).

1. When the server is very obviously in a bad mood, and is letting it affect his or her work.

I once went into a bakery/coffee shop where the server was slamming things around, got angry when I didn’t hear what he said (he was mumbling), and when I asked if I could lower one of the window shades (the sun was in a nasty position at the time), he simply muttered, “Go for it.” Upon trying to lower the shade I promptly found that it had been made in such a way that it could not be lowered further than it was. It was a stupid design, but the server could have warned me before I tried the others.

As a barista, I find it very unprofessional to let your bad moods affect what you are doing when you serve people. People have their own problems, and don’t really need yours projected onto their coffee.

2. Don’t tip when the barista performs the least amount he or she can.

If they only hand you a scone, you don’t need to tip.

Situations where we love you if you tip, but it’s understandable if you don’t:

If the coffee shop is out of something. Sometimes this isn’t our fault- for me, the delivery person is usually late, and it bothers me a lot. I get stressed when we’re out of things. However, it is still the shop’s fault, and we understand if you don’t tip.

If the kitchen messes up your order. This is completely our fault, and we apologize. I smack myself mentally (and repeatedly) every time I mess something up.

If the coffee is luke-warm, the scones are cold, etc. Sometimes equipment malfunctions or strange things happen, but hey, that’s not your problem, its ours. (That was meant in a completely non passive-aggressive way, I swear.)

Someone drops something that you just bought. Speaks for itself.

We love you if you still tip in those situations.

Well, there we have it. My guide to tipping. If you have anything else to add, please tell me! I’d love to hear your own thoughts on tipping do’s and don’t’s.

Remember, barista is Italian for bartender. And you always tip your bartender.

Ciao for now!

A letterman

by the Night Writer

The clinic called today. My 6-week post-op ultra-sensitive PSA test results were in. The percentage of Prostate Specific Antigen in my blood stream clocked in at less than 0.01%; in other words, the nurse said, “undetectable.” Of course, that’s what we were expecting following the surgery, but it was good to hear none the less.

That’s a very good thing, but I couldn’t help thinking about being in Indianapolis two weeks ago for the funeral of my uncle Carl who had succumbed to lung cancer. Despite the occasion, it was good to see my cousins again, their kids, and experience a family gathering in the style of that branch of clan. Despite their grief, my cousins each expressed their relief that I had come out of my bout healthy. That was good to hear, but it also made me feel kind of odd given what they had been going through.

After Indianapolis the services moved to Missouri where another batch of family and friends gathered for a visitation and the interment. Here I received another bundle of well-wishes including many from people I barely knew, which felt more than a little awkward I can tell you. I said to my brother, “Geez, does everyone in town know what I had surgery for?”

“Well,” he said, “when you’re on the prayer chain at five or six churches the word does tend to get around.”

In the last six months since I received the first call from my doctor I’ve experienced a lot of emotions; fear, anger, love, joy, and even laughter. And now I could add one more to the list: ambivalence.

Yes, technically, it was a life or death situation, but then so is crossing the street. My cancer had appeared almost unnoticed, had been diagnosed, treated and blown to oblivion with barely an outward sign on my body. My recovery has been going extremely well, with even the dreaded side effects of incontinence and impotence rebounding quickly in a matter of weeks when I had been told to expect it to take months at least. When my aunt, a nurse, congratulated me on being “a cancer survivor”, I cocked my head and told her I felt as if I was receiving an honor I hadn’t earned. “Nonsense,” she said. “You had major surgery. You had something that kills people. You probably shouldn’t have been able to drive down here so soon after all that. You should be proud.”

“I guess I am,” I said, “but it almost feels as if I’m in high school and just earned my letter jacket even though I barely played. It is like I should only get a little “C” on my jacket instead of a big one.”  She laughed at that, patted my shoulder, said, “Don’t worry. You’ve earned it.”

I know I have been blessed. While I’d just as soon not have had cancer, I’ll happily accept this outcome compared to the alternative. There have been inconveniences, sure, but I honestly, deeply,  thank God and his steady hand that I haven’t endured the rigors and indignities of chemo, haven’t seen my medical expenses break into the five- or six-figures, haven’t had to see the worried looks from those around me whenever I’ve had a coughing fit. It might all even seem like it was a dream but for the red scars on my belly, though even now I can feel the skin smoothing out under my fingers.

I am a cancer survivor.

I’ll take it.


Related posts: 

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 1 – ‘Twas brillig

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 2 – Jubjubs and frumious bandersnatches 

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 3 – Tumtums and other trees

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 4 – Snicker-snack


Thoughts on Growing Up

by Tiger Lilly

Throughout my childhood, whenever I reached a milestone, this was my thought process:

When I reached the height of 5 feet: I’m officially an ADULT!

When it began to be with me after the manner of women: I’m officially an ADULT!

When I turned 13: Dude! I’m officially an ADULT!

When I started college courses: I’m officially an ADULT!

When I got my driver’s license: Holy crap I’m officially an ADULT!

When I got a job: I’m officially an ADULT!!

My 18th birthday is in ten days. You can imagine my thought process at that point.

Holy crap I’m so old.

Ciao for now.

Thug-lite on the LRT

by the Night Writer

It was 6:30ish last Tuesday night, and a group of us seasoned LRT riders were waiting at a downtown stop, poised at the place on the platform  where we knew the doors would open when a train came. When the train arrived a couple of hoodied kids who looked to be about 15 years old barged the queue for the door, even blocking a couple of people who were trying to disembark. As it so happens, these gentlemen were black, though I’ve seen this behavior from many of the youthful riders regardless of color.

The two guys sat across the aisle from each other in some forward-facing seats and the other riders seemed content to give them space, choosing other seats. They didn’t concern me too much, though, and they were sitting in my favorite section, away from the cold drafts that come in when the train doors open, so I took a seat kitty-corner facing one of them, against the window. I pulled out my iPad to do some reading and the kid starts asking me about it – what model, what can it do, etc. He asked how much it cost. I told it him, “a lot”. He pressed, I responded with the same. He asked again and I gave him a ballpark. Then he said, “I bet you’d be upset if someone took it from you.”

I didn’t take it as a threat. The two kids together might have weighed as much as I do and the train had too many people on it, and we were too deep into the car, for a good snatch and run (which apparently have been a recurring problem on the LRT); I’d have had him by the hoodie within two steps. My sense was he was trying to have some fun playing with the mind of what he took to be an uptight white guy, so looking him in the eye – as I had been doing in the rest of our conversation – and in my same tone of voice  I told the kid that I wouldn’t get too excited, I’d simply activate the tracking app on the Pad and call the police and have them go get it for me.

The kid said, “What if the guy sold it?” I said he’d have to move fast because the last story I read in the paper about someone using the tracker to recover an iPad the police had arrived at the address with the Pad in about an hour. He then wanted to know if the police would give it back to me. “They would,” I said, “but maybe not until after the trial.”

That seemed to put an end to the conversation so I went back to reading. Shortly after that the kid put his feet, wet and dripping from the snow, on the seat next to me. Now this selfish behavior (also observed in young people of all colors) is a pet peeve of mine though I usually keep quiet about it. Since the kid had already engaged me in conversation, though,  and I wasn’t going to be intimidated, I said in a friendly tone, “Hey, what about the next person that wants to sit in that seat?” He gave me the blank face, tilted his head to one side and shrugged his shoulders. “What if the next person to sit in the seat turned out to be you?” Same shrug.

At the very next stop a couple of black women in their 30s boarded with children and made for where we were seated. One saw the slop on the seat and made a disgusted noise and moved on. I looked at the kid, and he had his head down, staring at his feet. At Lake St. they got off. I kept a grip on my Pad and then watched their reflections in the window out of the corner of my eye as they reached the platform. I figured there’d be some parting shot so I wasn’t surprised when I saw the kid draw back his fist to hit my window as he went by. If he thought he’d get me to jump he was, again, disappointed.

Vorpal blades and manxome foes – Part 4: snicker-snack

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwork, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

I had followed the Jabberwock’s trail through the wood and knew I was reaching some resolution. As I paused uffishly I thought back over some of the lessons and spiritual perspectives I had gained in the past year. Each was neat and useful by itself, but I also saw how those lessons had prepared me for this test. Last February, for example, I watched 18″ of snow fall on the Minneapolis airport while hoping my flight to Phoenix, and to the conference I’d been organizing for eight months, would be able to take off. Actually, I was doing more than hoping, I was praying. I even had some specific ideas of what kind of miracles needed to take place. Ultimately, rather than stress out as each hour brought a few more inches of snow,  I left it in God’s hands, focusing on the objective — getting to Phoenix — and leaving the rest to Him. It turned out that my plane was the last one to take off before the airport was closed, and that we also picked up a huge tailwind en route that cut nearly an hour off of the flying time.

I thought I’d learned a great lesson back then about trusting outcomes to God, but it turned out that February was just a practice test for November of this year as I weighed options for dealing with my cancer. I won’t go into all the possible treatments and their respective drawbacks here as this information already fills several medical journals and dedicated websites. I did seek out medical opinions, though. My original urologist was all in favor of doing open surgery. Oddly enough, he happened to be a surgeon. I also wanted to see a radiation oncologist, however, because I’d heard some good things about radiation treatment, especially the newer, focused-beam radiation that didn’t require as many treatments.

One of the services my company offers to our health-plan clients is up-to-date data on centers of excellence for various treatments. According to our team, the U of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic are the premiere facilities for prostate cancer treatment in this area, and since the Mayo isn’t part of my insurance company’s network, I went to see a radiation oncologist at the U. He looked over my charts and talked to me about some options. “Your problem,” he said, “and it’s a good problem, is that you have too many options to choose from because of your relatively young age, overall health and your longer life expectancy. Too many men when we see them have other health issues besides the cancer and we are limited in the kinds of treatment we can do that won’t be a greater risk to them than the cancer itself.” I asked him, if he were me, what treatment he would have, expecting him to recommend his own specialty.

“If it were me,” he said, “I’d have the Da Vinci robotic surgery.”

“Would you go to the Mayo for the procedure? I see where they are pretty proud of their state-of-the-art robotic technology.”

“If it were me,” he said, “I’d be more interested in WHO was doing the cutting, rather than the tool he was using.”

“So, who would you have do it?”

“The Chair of our Urology Department is one of the best there is at this, and he’s done thousands of the procedure. ”

So, a day later, I was meeting with Dr. Konety and various members of his team to go over the procedure in greater detail. Not only were they both professional and friendly (not that easy to find), they had room in the schedule to operate on me before the year was out, saving me from having to incur another large deductible when paying for this. I was very interested in everything they had to say, but I also wanted to leave room for a miraculous outcome. I said I would likely have the surgery, but I would like another PSA test first to further confirm my condition. Unfortunately, it turned out that you have to allow a couple of months after a biopsy before you can get an accurate PSA since the biopsy “angries up” the prostate and distorts the test results. It wouldn’t be possible to get this done yet this year.

On the other hand, however, the U is participating with the Mayo Clinic in a trial of a pre-surgery Magnetic Resonance Spectography technique using a 3 Tesla magnetic probe that is twice as powerful as what is typically used. This version of the MRS delivers high-resolution images that, along with a dye injected into my body, would give them a precise picture of where the cancer was, how much there was and if it had spread before they even began the surgery.

I thought back to when my oldest daughter was five and broke her arm. When we came back to the doctor for a check-up 10 days after her soft cast had been placed on her they ended up x-raying her arm two more times because they couldn’t find any sign of a break. That is, not only was there no break, but there was no sign of the callusing that typically accompanies a healed bone.

“Hmmm,” I said to my present-day care team.

“There will be no cost to you if you participate in the study,” they said.

“Sign me up,” I said. The peace I had been holding out for settled around me. My thought was that I’d have the MRS, and if it should turn out that they could no longer see any cancer, then great! If the cancer was still there, I’d go through with the robotic procedure and eradicate the tumor sooner rather than later. The scan was scheduled for Dec. 6, and the surgery for Dec. 8, which meant we wouldn’t get the results of the scan until right before the surgery. The hardest part of the scan was spending an hour and a half in the MRI machine. I’m not claustrophobic, but I was glad that they didn’t need to put my head in the tube for the scanning. Another fun thing is that you have to stay absolutely still when the scanner is passing over you since movement blurs the images. This wasn’t a problem with the first battery of scans, but then it came time to inject the dye into my system. The dye went in through an IV in my right arm, and I could feel the warm sensation as it moved up my arm, then into my neck and face on its way to other parts. When it got to my lips, the warm sensation turned into a strong tingle…and then it got to my nose and I suddenly had a strong urge to sneeze. I resisted as long as I could but ultimately gave in to three, racking sneezes. Fortunately this was only a minor disruption for the scanner.

The day of the surgery arrived quickly and I started that morning by going out for coffee with the Reverend Mother and Tiger Lilly. Somehow or another, coffee counts as a clear liquid which was all I was permitted to have prior to the surgery.  After coffee we went home and I checked some emails and Facebook to kill time until leaving for the hospital. Despite the impending surgery and the enforced fasting, I was still at peace, even looking forward to either receiving a miracle or getting the surgery over with. While on Facebook I came across a status report from my brother alerting everyone that I was undergoing cancer surgery and requesting prayers. It was a welcome request that touched my heart — but also my funnybone, which is part calcium but mostly Monty Python.

I quickly added a comment to my brother’s update: “I feel happy! I think I’ll go for a walk!”

To which my two daughters, located in two different states, responded nearly simultaneously with virtually the same retort: “You’re not fooling anyone, you’ll be stone dead in a minute.”

Ah, the innumerable joys of raising one’s children properly, though it may have caused a few people who didn’t have the proper context to raise their eyebrows and perhaps their concern.

Once at the hospital they put me in the pre-op area in a room with a big curtain across the  front. I was told to undress and put on the hospital gown (equipped with a heat source, I kid you not) and pull the curtain back when I was ready. When I did so there were four people in scrubs and caps standing just outside, talking. The sound of the curtain caused them to turn at look at me. I looked back at them. We stayed that way for a couple of moments. “Elvis has left the building,” I said. They moved on.

I climbed up on the gurney and got myself situated as a nurse hooked up the heater to my gown. The Reverend Mother came in about then and we talked a bit while we waited for the surgeon to come in for his pre-op visit. My wife wanted to know if I needed anything, so I asked her to pull my iPad out of my briefcase next to my clothes and read Psalm 139 to me (they’d already tucked my glasses away). She did, slowly, and in the process we both got a little misty. Not because we were sad or afraid but because we were moved by the compassion God shows to us.

Dr. Konety arrived with the scans from the MRS taken two days before. The cancer was there, occupying about 10% of my prostate. We reviewed the images (very clear!) and he told us that it appeared that the cancer was completely contained and hadn’t spread to neighboring areas. He discussed the procedure and I signed the final authorization to go through with the surgery. My wife stepped away and the anesthesiologist came in and told me what he was going to do throughout the surgery, which would take about four hours. He started a little drip to help me relax (I already had a couple of IVs in me) and then my wife returned. I looked at the anesthesiolgist and said, “Are you sure you’re doing this right? I think I just saw an angel.”

One, two! One, two! And through and through!

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack

He left it dead and with its head

He went galumphing back.

After that I remember nothing until I opened my eyes and did, indeed, see angels: Tiger Lilly and the Reverend Mother hovering over me. I was in the recovery area and they were only allowed a few moments in which to see me because it was nearly 10 p.m. and the area was about to close. My wife told me that Dr. Konety had already talked to them to say the procedure had gone very well and everything was exactly how it looked in the scans once they got inside. They were all but certain they had found all the cancer and gotten it out, along with the prostate, lymph nodes and seminal vesicles while completely sparing the nerves. That was great news, but I was finding it a little hard to believe that I had been unconscious; I knew why I was there and what was supposed to have happened, but it bothered me that I couldn’t remember going into the OR. Apparently, though, I can be rather amusing when coming out from under general anesthetic.

I passed a relatively uneventful night back in my double room. I was comfortable and restful though of course the nurse kept coming in regularly to check my signs and take me for short walks around the all but deserted nurses station. I even scored a couple of popsicles, which tasted fabulous. They ended up keeping me in the hospital until early evening, meaning I spent about 32 hours there from the time I checked in until I checked out. The Da Vinci robotic process calls for only a handful of small incisions in order to insert the various cameras, vorpal blades, lights and other necessities. I also had a new, three-inch scar running vertically from above my navel, from which they had removed the Jabberwock’s head as well as the rest of it’s ugly parts, along with some things that I had been using but wouldn’t be anymore.

12 days after the surgery I went in for a post-op exam. My recovery had been going very well; I hadn’t needed the Percocet they sent me home with (Tylenol worked fine) and I’d even made it out of the house for a couple of events, including serving about 30 pounds of ham at our Inside Outfitters Christmas breakfast. (It was a good thing I’d passed on the opportunityto deliver the message that morning, though!). On December 20th I met with a new doctor who examined me and told me that the post-op pathology report completely confirmed that there was no cancer in any of the other tissues they took out of me which means there is virtually no chance (they’ll never bring themselves to say “no chance”) of prostate cancer still being inside me. I’ll go through a series of quarterly, extra-sensitive PSA tests to confirm this over the next year but I’m galumphing around, convinced the beast is dead and I’ve made it out of the tulgey wood.

Since then I have been making steady progress in my recovery. I’m having to relearn some things but it looks as if it is all coming back to me. Not that I was that concerned once I had found my peace. In fact, I’ve heard over and over from the staff, my nurse consultant from my insurance company and from folks involved in my physical therapy about how well I’m doing and how remarkable my attitude has been.

Certainly, though, there are thoughts that go through your head when you hear you have cancer, and foremost among these is that this might be the end of the line. I knew the statistics said 33,000 men a year die from prostate cancer, but I also knew that a huge multiple of that number die with prostate cancer every year. That is, the cancer is typically slow-growing and when you reach a certain age something else is likely to get you before the cancer does. Still, the word is definitely a mortal knock on the door marked “Exit.” Once I got out of my brief fear/pity experience I had little room or time for negative thoughts, but I did allow myself a little time one afternoon to think about whether I felt cheated — or felt that I had cheated — in my life. I was a little surprised to discover that, in fact, I was pretty content. Oh, there are things that I still want to do, and some of them are rather big, but I also knew I had loved well and been well-loved. When I considered my legacy — my daughters — I knew that if I had accomplished nothing other than playing my part in setting them on a path of faith and accomplishment then my life was an unqualified success, and I believe that is indeed the case. Once I had settled it for myself that I could, indeed, die happy then I was able to set morbid thoughts of mortality aside.

Granted, at some point I will die, and I’ve spent no little amount of time thinking about the process I went through and how my faith manifested itself. I know I was blessed, but I also know many people feel themselves cursed or abandoned as they go through something like this. I know there are those with faith who endure endless complications and pain, and even die from this. Does God love me and not them?

I can’t accept that. I don’t believe that the plans God has for me are any more special than what He has in mind for anyone else. It has been my good luck, if you want to call it that, that I have been able to pick up a few extra glimmers of revelation that have helped me, but even these little flashes only show me how much I still have to comprehend. There are things in the natural, such as getting cancer, that still seem almost unreal to me. At the same time, elements of the supernatural have never seemed more real to me than they do now. I know that I still get in my own way too much of the time when trying to get a handle on some of these things, but I have seen that even when I trip myself up, someone is there to catch me.

“And has thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.



Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 1 – ‘Twas brillig

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 2 – Jubjubs and frumious bandersnatches 

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 3 – Tumtums and other trees

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 4 – Snicker-snack

The Letterman


Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 3 – of Tumtums and other trees

 by the Night Writer

He took his vorpal sword in hand,

long-time the manxome foe he sought –

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

Most people who know me would likely say that I’m a pretty positive guy, strong in my faith. I’ve experienced many miracles in my life, including healing,  and I’ve learned to wield the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). I’ve been blessed to have been used to pray and heal others, including a couple of dramatic cases, one of which was a true matter of life and death.  In fact, thinking back on it now, I can say that there are two people alive today because God used me to pray; once to open a barren womb and once to stop the effects of a massive stroke. Those are stories for another time, because I also have to say that despite these experiences, I found myself feeling low and more than a little alone after the Jabberwock announced, “Game on.”

The lowest point actually came between the time I had the biopsy done and when I got the results. It was a Friday night and I made the mistake of entertaining the jubjubs and bandersnatches late at night before going to bed. One of the factoids I came across was that if left untreated, prostate cancer metastasizes easily into the lymph nodes and into the bones, especially in the lower back and hips, and once into the bones is often fatal. My father ultimately died of lymphoma, detected via a bone biopsy,  and the very reason I had gone in for a physical in the first place was because I’d had chronic pain in my lower back and hips for a year that just never seemed to go completely away.

When I read that, well past my bedtime, I suddenly pictured cancer having got into my bones and lymphatic system because I had ignored the pain for so long. It was a fitful night, to say the least and I was not a jolly and well-rested fellow on Saturday morning. As I prayed scriptures of peace and healing that morning something strange happened. It was as if I dozed off for a few minutes where I was seated, which wouldn’t have been unusual given the lack of sleep and my stress level. The thing is, when I “came to” I was at once at peace. I had the definite sense that I had been somewhere else for a few minutes, but I had no recollection of where or what had been said, only that my attitude was completely changed. And as I went about my morning I started to think of reasons — some pretty obvious unless you’re trying to think clearly after midnight — why the pain in my legs and hips couldn’t have been bone related. As the day went on, my outlook continued to brighten, perhaps because I was such a clever fellow.

Then Sunday morning came around and during the praise and worship part of our service I suddenly had a picture in my mind of two trees in the Garden of Eden. One was the tree of life and the other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At that moment I realized that I had been spending all my time swinging from the branches of the wrong tree. I had turned to the knowledge that I had from my work in healthcare, to what I had found on-line and from other resources, and been bounced around pretty good. Not that it was all evil — it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil after all — but there isn’t any peace in that knowledge, even when I had thought I’d “figured out” the fear that had disquieted me the day before.

I also realized that I while I had had knowledge of the Tree of Life, I had not been drawing on my understanding. That is, while I had been embracing God’s word, I had not been dwelling on His character and on the things He has done in my life.  I had talked earlier in the morning with my pastor about what I had gone through and what I thought I had realized. He was standing near me after I had this revelation so I walked over to him while the music was still playing and with a smile said, “You know, there were two trees in the garden.” He must have understood what I meant because when we moved into a different part of the service he asked me to come up front and handed me a New Living Translation and asked me to read Psalm 139, verses 1 through 18 to the congregation.

O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

“That is the Tree of Life, John,” he said when I finished and returned to my seat. From that morning on I no longer had any fear about what was going to happen, even when I received word the following week that the biopsy was positive. I pursued the options that were before me with peace, supported by my wife who said she would agree on any course of action I chose that brought me peace. I smiled when I came across John 16:15, remembering the Tree of Life: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”


Next: Snicker-snack


Related Posts:

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 1 – ‘Twas brillig

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 2 – Jubjubs and frumious bandersnatches 

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 3 – Tumtums and other trees

Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 4 – Snicker-snack