Thursday, August 25, 2016

Isn't there enough to worry about?


I had a minor surgery earlier this week, if there is such a thing.  It seems there’s a progression to skin cancers, ranging from basal cell carcinomas to the deadly melanoma.  I had the one in the middle, a squamous cell spot above my right eyebrow, and I had it removed.  Advice to all, use sun block lotions and get regular checkups with your dermatologist... but that’s not my thought for today.
I was given an antibiotic as part of my treatment, and it led to a discussion about superbugs, or strains of bacteria that have become immune to antibiotics.  There are several, but the most commonly referenced superbug is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).  This nasty creature started showing up in hospitals years ago.  It appears that over time, bacteria can adapt to the drugs that are designed to kill them, and change to ensure their survival. 
That’s just what we need—smart bacteria.  Don’t we have enough to worry about without having micro-organisms targeting us?  Millions of people are infected each year by these superbugs, leading to everything from diarrhea to death.   
You can reduce your exposure to superbugs by taking antibiotics ONLY when you need them, and when you do take antibiotics, make sure to take the ENTIRE course of treatment.  Other than that, wash your hands and avoid unsanitary conditions.  Personally, I try to avoid going to the doctor’s office or hospitals unless I absolutely have to.   That’s where sick people hang out!
Life was much simpler when I was a kid.  Sure, medicine has advanced dramatically the past 50 years, but it now appears the diseases are getting smarter right along with us.  This comes at a time when we have more than enough to worry about—economic uncertainty, terrorism, rising worldwide divisiveness, and worst of all, the prospect of Hillary or Donald as president. 
Come to think of it… I’ll take my chances with superbugs.       

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Virginia is for Lovers... and Speeding Tickets



I confess. I was speeding. I was going 76 in a 65 mph zone, but then, so was most everyone else careening downhill on this section of I-77 in Wythe County, Virginia.
I’ve driven through Wytheville, Virginia dozens of times in the 20+ years I’ve been making the trip from our home in North Carolina to visit family in the Midwest.  More often than not, the Wythe County Sheriff’s department has been lined up in the median, hiding behind hills, before darting out to pull drivers over, sometimes two and three at a time. I’d avoided getting tickets in the past, but not this time.   
It was 9:00 a.m. Sunday.  My wife Claudia, our dog Milo, and I had driven for about an hour. We had 400 miles to go to reach Louisville where I was dropping my wife off to spend a few days spoiling grandkids.  I was then driving another 300 miles to tend to my 87-year-old mother in Illinois who had knee replacement surgery three days prior.  She was scheduled to come home from the hospital the next day.
Having just passed a slower moving car, I continued to gain speed, going downhill on the mountain highway.   I saw two county patrol cars tucked behind a roadside hill and glanced down at my speedometer.  I was going 76 and immediately braked and glided into the slow lane.  The two cars behind me did the same thing, but it was too late.  I watched in the rearview mirror as one of the patrol cars pulled out and came our way.  Wondering which car he was after, my heart raced as he closed the gap between us.  Finally, he slid in behind me, and the top of his car exploded with multicolored lights.  My more than 10-year hiatus without a speeding ticket was about to be over.  I pulled to the roadside.
Wise-ass comments passed through my mind as the stocky sheriff’s deputy lumbered up to my driver’s side window.  
Glad to see you were able to run down this 4-cylider Civic.
Just my luck.  I pass through town when your donut break is over.  
So, are you targeting grandparents hopped up on Metamucil this morning?   
Fortunately, I never said any of them.  I was madder at myself than the deputy.  I knew to be careful traveling this section of interstate.  There’s even a blog warning drivers about Wythe County http://www.speedtrap.org/city/12090/Wytheville.  The 65 mph speed limit (most of I-77 is 70 mph), the long downhill section of highway and the large number of out-of-state drivers adds up to a good source of revenue for Wythe County.
After introducing himself as J.P. somebody and informing me of my serious crime, I handed the deputy my license and registration and he walked back to his cruiser.  While we waited for J.P. to return, a couple other drivers were caught in the Wythe County Sheriff’s net.  The scene was beginning to look as if there had been a multi-car pileup.  With the heavy traffic on I-77 and the county patrol cars darting on and off the highway, it was a miracle there wasn’t a serious accident.  I wondered what the larger risk was, me driving 76 in a 65, or the backup of traffic resulting from the multiple roadside arrests.  
J.P. needed only a couple minutes to call in my license plate and fill out the two-page Virginia Uniform Summons.  After he returned, it took him less than 30 seconds to explain it to me.  His staccato memorized spiel blended together, sounding like Two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.  
I thought this must be the Wythe County Sheriff’s equivalent to calf roping.  Nearby, one of the other deputies must be holding a stopwatch.  As I pulled away, I looked back expecting to see J.P. throwing his hands into the air, signifying his calf had been successfully tied.
I handed the ticket to my wife.  She informed me that the total cost of my brain fart was $132.00.  Only $66 was for the fine. Another $51 was for “processing” and $15 for local fees, a.k.a. county windfall.  Not bad for roping one Civic.    
As we were about to leave Virginia, I saw a sign displaying the state’s motto, “Virginia is for Lovers.”  
Yeah, I thought, and for speeding tickets.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Car Travel - Then and Now


Car travel has changed dramatically since the days when my family drove cross-country on our summer vacations.
With the trunk of our new 1962 Ford Galaxy packed tight, a stack of board games in the backseat between me and my sister, and mom armed with a Shell Road Atlas, we took to the highway.  Weeks perusing dozens of glossy brochures preceded our departure.  Most of them were now stuffed in a brown grocery sack at Mom’s feet in the front seat. There was no Internet to research our destination or MapQuest to chart the course.  
These trips always started filled with optimism, which usually lasted until the first pee break, about an hour down the road.  “Didn’t I tell you to go before we left home?” was Dad’s rhetorical question.  Of course he told us, but my sister’s breakfast orange juice would not be denied.
There weren’t a lot of four-lane super highways in the early 60’s.  Travel was on two-lane roads, winding through every small town between home and our destination.  Signs foretelling fast food restaurants at each upcoming exit did not exist.   In fact, fast food was rare then.  My dad would seek roadside caf├ęs advertised on billboards 50 miles in advance.  A ten-year-old could starve waiting for Kelly’s Shiny Diner to appear on the horizon.
There was always at least one point where we’d get lost. Mom would have the road atlas unfolded in her lap, flapping like an unfurled flag as Dad shouted out passing road signs.  An argument would usually ensue before we pulled into a gas station to re-chart our course. Kids today don’t appreciate how iPhones and navigation systems have improved family harmony.   
My sister and I got along pretty well on these trips, even without video games, which were yet to be invented.  We’d make lists of the states found on license plates, challenge each other to find roadside objects, and play Old Maid.  However, we were ten and eight years old.  The silence wouldn’t last 1,000 miles.  It was usually around mile 300 that the first, “I’ll turn this car around right now!” would come bellowing from the front seat.
We knew Dad would never reverse course. He was driven by a timetable in his head--St. Louis by lunch, Joplin for dinner, hotel in Kansas City by nightfall, etc.  I think most men were like this, but my dad was fanatical.  I dreaded getting stuck behind a slow-moving truck.  It usually meant skipping the next restroom break to make up for lost time.  Hang on bladder!  
Dad loved to calculate our gas mileage on vacations.  Cars back then were the size of whales and had huge, inefficient V-8 engines, but then, gas was only 38 cents per gallon.  At each service station, Dad would fill up and then provide the number of gallons pumped and odometer reading to my mother.  She would do the calculation.  “Seventeen point eight,” she would announce. “Not bad. Up a mile per gallon,” Dad would proudly reply, and our journey would continue.  
I assumed gaining one mile per gallon was a huge windfall.  It wasn’t until my math skills improved a couple years later that I realized we were talking about 50 cents per tankful.  Today’s cars calculate gas mileage and display it continually.  I’m glad this technology wasn’t around in the 60s.  It would have robbed my father of one of his simple pleasures.  
We always made it to our destination and back home with the car and the family intact.  Memories of our time on the road eventually faded, replaced by happy photos of the vacation.  I’ve often wondered if today’s families could survive similar ventures.  Somehow, I doubt it.          

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dangers of Insomnia



I’ve never been a sound sleeper.  I wish I were, but I seldom get more than five hours a night, typically waking in the early morning, unable to fall back to sleep.  I’m writing this at 4:35 a.m.
My physician has warned me of the health risks linked to lack of sleep: high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and other ailments.  What he didn’t tell me was that insomnia can also be associated with nocturnal stupidity, at least in my case.
I have the bad habit of using the time normal people are sleeping to surf the internet—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites, and yes, infomercials.  None of this is very productive.  In fact, it's dangerous.
Keep in mind, I’m a mature retired man who ordinarily uses good judgment.  You wouldn’t think I could get into much trouble sitting at a keyboard at 2 a.m., but you’d be wrong.  I’m embarrassed to admit what I did recently, but confession is the first step to curing what may be addictive behavior.
Of all things, it was a pop-up ad for wrinkle cream.  But not just ANY wrinkle cream.  This one used snake venom as one of its active ingredients.  I guess the theory is the venom will paralyze wrinkles. It was the snake venom combined with the before-and-after pictures that captured my attention. If this stuff could produce such amazing results, it was worth taking a further look.  So, I clicked on the ad.  Big mistake.
This wrinkle cream claimed to have been featured on the Dr. Oz Show.  Surely, that gave it medical cred over other wrinkle erasers.   I was becoming more convinced.  When I read you could get a 30-day supply for only the cost of shipping, I reached for my credit card to pay the $5.95.   Minutes later, I had been emailed a receipt, and was on my way to rediscovering my youth.
The cream arrived in seven days.  The only instructions were on the side of the bottle. Cleanse your face, pat dry, and apply lotion two times daily.  It seemed simple enough.  I used it every day for the next two weeks, carefully inspecting my sagging eyes, crow’s feet and lines on my forehead. My skin did feel tighter after applying the miracle potion, but I didn’t see results similar to those before-and-after photos. Not even close.  My face was stuck in the “before” position.
Upon closer inspection of the bottle’s contents, I discovered water was the first ingredient and “actual” snake venom wasn’t included.  Instead a synthetic ingredient with “characteristics” of snake venom was listed.  Huh? There are chemists with this kind of time on their hands?  I’m not so sure I would have ordered a wrinkle cream containing “fake” snake venom.
My embarrassing story could have ended there, with me out $5.95 for shipping and a bottle of half-used fake snake venom cream in my bathroom cabinet, but no.  Less than a week later, I noticed an $89.95 charge on my VISA account for something I didn’t recognize.   It turned out it was for the wrinkle cream!
I immediately called the product’s toll-free number and reached a young man with a distinctive East Indian accent and an uppity attitude.  “I’m sorry, but our ad clearly states you will be billed the full price in 30 days if you don’t cancel your subscription.”
“Subscription? I didn’t sign up for a subscription!” I argued, asking repeatedly to speak to his supervisor.  His supervisor was busy—no surprise to me.  Nearly 45 minutes later, I was successful in getting a 50% refund, but I was still out more than $50.00, including shipping, and my face still looked like a dried-out catcher's mitt.
I went back to the wrinkle cream website.  If I had scrolled far enough past the fancy ad and read the small print agreement, it did state I needed to cancel within 30 days to avoid further charges.  I wonder how many people actually do this, especially at 2 a.m.   It was a lesson learned.
Hmmm.   I’ve always wondered if these non-stick cooking pans actually work.  They must.  They have Cerami-Tech technology.