Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Funeral Of A Friend

I went to a funeral today of a friend and former colleague. Jeff was a very interesting fellow. Although he did not hold any formal degrees from a college or university, he was one of the brightest people I’ve ever known.

I was part of an interview committee that hired him to work at the 911 center back in 1989. (I was in management there at the time). He worked as one of our police dispatchers, and was a real blessing because he had previous experience as a dispatcher at another agency. Our other new hires had no experience, and would require months of training before they could be entrusted with the lives of police officers on the radio.

Soon after beginning work for us, Jeff was full of suggestions. His suggestions were good ones, even if we weren’t able to implement all of them right away.

I noticed that Jeff had a particular talent for understanding computers and technical things, like how our two-way radios worked, and how our telephone system worked. He was able to pick up on technical things exceptionally fast. Eventually I was able to arrange Jeff's schedule to spend much of his time working on technical issues with me. Later, after I left the 911 center for a more sane job, a new position was created for Jeff to work full time as an assistant to the Information Systems director.

There were many times, when Jeff would literally carry the 911 center on his back to keep it running. When a system would go down, or when the center moved to a new building, he ensured that everything would stay up and running, and that there would be no disruption of 911 services to the general public.

Jeff was so dedicated to the service he provided to the 911 center, that his whole life was wrapped up in it. Nearly all of his friends and associates were a part of his “work family”. I was much the same way when I worked there. It wasn’t until I met and married my wife, that I started to develop a life outside of my job. I suppose I would have been much like Jeff, had my beloved wife not come along and stole my heart away.

Jeff continued working at the 911 center, until last Tuesday (May 23, 2006), when he passed away from colon cancer. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in December of 2004, at the age of 40. He has been fighting a valiant battle for the last 2 ½ years. He worked right up until the end, and some of his coworkers were there at his bedside when he passed away.

Although Jeff wasn’t much of a church-going guy, he had a wonderful way with people. Jeff was always vibrant and vivacious in his interactions with others. He was a loyal friend. He looked out after the needs of others. He was a guy you wanted on your team when you were in a clutch situation. All through his illness, and its inevitable ending, he never whined or complained about his circumstances. He endured his lot with grace, poise and a little humor as well.

Today at the funeral, there were many uniformed police officers and firefighters in attendance. There were many of his co-workers from the 911 center as well. Even some old-timers that worked there when I was there. It was nice to be able to renew our acquaintnace, although it would have been better to meet under more pleasant circumstances.

Jeff will be sorely missed. He was a true public servant through and through. The public will also miss him, whether they know it or not. Jeff was one of the many who serve the community behind the scenes and out of the limelight. They make our communities a better and safer place to live. Such public servants rarely, if ever receive public recognition for their efforts.

I wish Jeff, his family, and loved ones well. I also wish the employees of the 911 center well. May they all find peace and hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Surprise, Surprise

It was Easter weekend, 1985. It was a time in my life when I was struggling with my faith. I had taken offense at an incident that happened in the Spring of 1983, which then caused me to go into a state of rebellion. I had slacked off in my church attendance and activity.

I had taken a job as a police dispatcher in the Fall of 1983. In that job I found myself in a completely different environment than I had ever been before. I was dealing with people who were at their worst. The underbelly of society. Every call I took was another problem, another casualty. I began to be hardened, as some of the long-time police officers were. I suppose you have to harden yourself to a certain extent, or you could never endure the endless string of sadness and hurt of those who were victimized. It was hard to comprehend how perpetrators could be so thoughtless and unfeeling toward their victims. They seemingly were without conscience in their actions. They only thought of themselves, and satisfying their own wants and desires.

After dealing with these kinds of situations for a while, I became somewhat jaded. I began to think, in the insular world of the law-enforcement community that nearly everyone was as deplorable as the people I dealt with day in, and day out. They were the people I dealt with the most. It was us (Law Enforcement) against them (the bad guys).

True, I could have done better to protect myself from these influences. In my state of rebellion, I wasn’t attending church, I wasn’t reading my scriptures, I wasn’t praying regularly, and I wasn’t associating with the Saints. I paid a price for neglecting to feed my spirit. My spirituality, and testimony shrank. I wasn’t sure what was true anymore. I could remember that I had a testimony of the Gospel, but I couldn’t feel it anymore. Because of my neglect, I didn’t feel the Spirit of the Lord very often.

One thing I learned about myself, and perhaps this will apply to others as well: When you are not living your life so that you feel the Spirit of the Lord on a regular basis, you become more susceptible to evil influences. You lose the ability to clearly distinguish right from wrong. What once, with the help of the Spirit, was a black and white issue, then becomes shades of grey, instead. The philosophies of men become more attractive, and appeal to “The Natural Man”. Without the guidance of the Spirit, we become more inclined to appease the Natural Man in ourselves, rather than seeking after spiritual things. I found myself changing political affiliations, and supporting causes and groups that I would never have been in favor of before my rebellion. I was out of tune with the Spirit, and I was striking sour chords.

Photo from Redrock Adventure.com

One of the local environmental groups (back in 1985) was fussing about the possibility that Garfield County (Utah) was about to pave a part of the Burr Trail. The Burr Trail runs East from Boulder, Utah, across some spectacular country including: Long Canyon, the “Circle Cliffs”, and through a portion of Capitol Reef National Park. The portion of the trail that runs through the park is a series of switchbacks that cross the Waterpocket Fold at Mulely Twist Canyon. Once through the switchbacks, the Burr Trail then turns South, leaves the National Park, and ends at Bullfrog Marina, on Lake Powell.

Sidebar note:
Incidentally, the areas along the Burr Trail that were not in Capitol Reef National park back in 1985, were later incorporated in that ill-advised land-grab back in 1996, when President Clinton created the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, mainly to solidify the environmental vote in the 1996 presidential election. Although the new national monument lies entirely within Utah, President Clinton bravely made his announcement of the monument from the Grand Canyon – safely within the confines of the state of Arizona. This was a surprise announcement, with no consultation with the people of Utah, or their elected representatives – over 1.7 million acres of land was now tied up in this monument. The Sierra Club actually got to draw up the boundaries of the new monument. Even Utah’s Democratic congressman, Bill Orton, was blindsided by this announcement. The people of Utah were so mad about this that they filed lawsuits to stop the creation of the park (which eventually failed). Bill Orton, in whose district the new park was drawn from, was defeated that Fall in the congressional elections, mainly due to the actions of President Clinton with regard to the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument.
End Sidebar

I decided that I would spend Easter weekend that year (1985) exploring the Burr Trail. I loaded my camping gear, and enough food and water for a couple of days in the trunk of my car, and headed South. I arrived at Boulder, Utah in the early afternoon. I then headed east on the Burr Trail. It was stunningly beautiful. I stopped many times to take photos, and just enjoy the scenery. The road was not paved (It now is paved from Boulder, Utah until you get to the boundary with Capitol Reef national park) but was in reasonably good condition. You could easily negotiate it with a passenger car, which is what I was driving at the time.

Photo By dgans on Flickr

I crossed the Waterpocket Fold, and went down the switchbacks of Mulely Twist Canyon. Then I came to a crossroads. I could turn North, and find a camping place somewhere along what is called the Notom road – or I could turn South, and continue on the Burr Trail and proceed to Bullfrog Marina.

It was getting late in the day, and it was clouding up and looked like rain would be falling soon. I decided to go North, and find either a campground or a suitable place along the way to camp. (The road goes in and out of the park boundaries several times along its path. Once you leave the park, and are on BLM land, you can camp just about anywhere you would like. Inside the park, you are allowed to camp only in designated campgrounds.)

So I started heading North on the Notom road, and down came the rain. It just poured, and thoroughly soaked the road. Up until now, the road I had been driving on was mostly gravely in nature, so even with the rain, it was still easily passable. However, as I proceeded North, the gravel turned into clay, which becomes very slippery when it becomes saturated with rain.

I have had a lot of experience in driving in mud and adverse conditions, so I was able to negotiate the road pretty well. My car had front-wheel drive, and handled the mud quite easily. After a while, I came to a gully in the road that went downhill, perhaps 100 feet or more, with a wash at the bottom, and then it turned a corner as it went uphill on the other side of the embankment. As I approached the drop-off point, a fellow stepped out onto the road and flagged me down. There were 3 or 4 other vehicles stopped there as well.

The fellow who flagged me down told me that the road was impassable from this point on. In the distance I could hear a jeep (all decked out with fat tires and a lift kit) that was trying to get up the other side of the embankment, to no avail. He would get to the bottom of the wash, then have to slow down to turn the corner, which caused him to lose all of his momentum. He would get partway up the other side, and spin out. Then he would back down the hill, and try again. He did this for a couple of hours, until finally he was able to get up the hill.

Those of us with mere mortal vehicles knew better than to even try it. The rain had finally stopped, and the sun was nearly down. We had two options, stay there and make a night of it, or retrace our steps back the way we had come, and either return to Boulder, or go on to Bullfrog Marina – either of which would take at least a couple of hours. We decided to stay there for the night.

For me, this was no big deal. I had all my camping gear, and plenty of food and water with me. I just found a spot off the road a little way, and set up my tent. I was all set. My goal had been to just find a spot along the road to spend the night anyway. This place was as good as any for me.

However others were not nearly as well prepared. One couple were driving a Jeep – a topless Jeep at that! They were wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. They had no food, and very little water with them. Naturally they were cold and hungry. Another vehicle had a young family with them. Another had an older couple. We all got together and shared our food. I shared a couple of blankets, a coat, and my lantern, along with some of my food and water. We built a campfire, and huddled around together. It was one of the most unique experiences of my life. Forced to spend the night with a group of perfect strangers.

The next morning (Easter Morning) the sun was out. The roads were wet, but not so wet and sloppy as they were the night before. With the sun out, the road would dry out soon. We shared breakfast together, and each went our separate ways.

I opted to turn back and go South, rather than try to get up that muddy embankment. I wanted to see Bullfrog Marina anyway. So I headed South and retraced the road I had come on previously. I passed the junction in the road that lead back to Boulder, Utah, and kept going South. Now I was seeing new territory for the first time. While still inside Capitol Reef National Park, I came upon a sign

Photo from climb-utah.com

for a trailhead called “Surprise Canyon”. I was in no particular hurry, so I stopped and got out of the car. It was a beautiful spot. I got my canteen, and my camera, and started hiking the trail toward the canyon.

I got about half-way to the canyon, when I stopped to take a break along the way. I found a fallen juniper tree to sit on. Then I just looked at, and took in the beautiful scenery around me.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a time in my life when I was struggling in my faith. As I looked at the beauty around me, I felt certain that this all just didn’t happen by accident. I saw the intricate rock formations. I thought of the animals in the ecosystem. Beauty like this doesn’t happen as a result of random acts of chance as the worldly philosophies and theories teach. There had to be a creator behind it. And if there was a creator, then there must be a purpose for that creation? But that was as far as I could get at that time, in my state of rebellion. I couldn’t get on to the next step in that line of thought – “What is the purpose for the creation?” Deep down, somewhere, I already knew the answer to this question. Still I was grateful for the beautiful place in which I found myself. It awakened spiritual feelings in me for the first time in ages. For me, the surprise in “Surprise Canyon” was not the canyon itself, but rather that I would have a spiritual experience on that Easter morn.

I know now that the Lord was looking after me. He was trying to gently remind me of who I was, and His desire to have me return to the fold. He had not given up on me, even though, at the time, I had given up on myself. This was the first of several experiences I had, which eventually would lead me back the to pathway of truth, and full participation in the Church and Kingdom of God. In the future, I hope to share some of those other experiences as well.

Friday, May 26, 2006

CT Scan (Again)

Well, here I am. Back to where it all started 2 1/2 months ago. I am in the C/T waiting room, drinking that evil barium solution at Cottonwood Hospital. An 8 oz. cup, every twenty minutes for the next hour and a half.

Last time I drank barium, they performed the C/T scan, and whisked me away to be admitted to the hospital. I had a total of 5 abscesses on my liver and bowel. Two of the abscesses were quite large, and they had to insert drain tubes into them. The drain tubes remained in me for about 7 weeks. I also had to take IV antibiotics for 7 weeks. The other 3 abscesses were small enough that they would respond with antibiotics alone.

I don't expect to be whisked away today. I am pain free (except for the neuralgia in my feet, and that's a whole other story), and my bowels and digestive system are working normally. Today's objective is a follow-up to make sure that I have healed properly.

The reason I have to drink barium, is to show whether or not I still have any diverticular pockets, or if I have any holes (fistula) in my bowels that have not healed up. This C/T scan today is to check up on how well I have healed.

I am typing this in the waiting room of the radiology department on my Palm Pilot. I have a little keyboard for it, which makes this possible. So between rounds of barium, I am trying to take advantage of the time, and write this post.

I have returned to work part time for the past 3 weeks. This week I have been working more like full time (7-8 hours a day). I am getting my head back into work.

This is a busy time of year at work. I work for a local government (a city of about 45,000 in population) in the greater Salt Lake City area. I work as a computer programmer. Each year, at this time of year, we prepare for the new fiscal year, which starts on July 1st.

This time of year, as the new budget is crafted for the upcoming fiscal year, we wait with bated breath to see what new things the City Council will come up with. It's my job to take whatever they legislate, and implement it -- or "Make It So!" in as Captain Picard would say.

This year the city is instituting a new storm water utility. I am working with various departments in the city to bill each and every resident and business in the city for storm drains.

Another project is to implement a shift differential pay system for police officers. If they work the afternoon shift - they get an additional 2.5% in pay. If they work graveyard shift, they get an additional 5.0% in pay.

In addition to these projects, our mainframe computer system (IBM i-series) is being upgraded. I have been designated as the system administrator, and will have to oversee the migration from our old computer to the new computer. That means that I will have to bury myself in technical manuals, and once again "Make it so!"

Once the migration to the new computer is complete, I will then be responsible for overseeing a version upgrade to the software package (Sungard HTE) that our city uses for most of its basic operations.

All of these projects are quite complicated, and will require a lot of research and coordination. Probably 90% of my work is doing research, consulting with various city departments, and arriving at an understanding of how things are to be implemented. Then after all the planning and research, I will actually write the programs that will "Make It So!"

As you can see, the demands at work are pretty heavy right now. I will need to be working full time from now until the first of July to get these things implemented.

On July 6th, I am scheduled to have a colonoscopy. I will be consulting with a gastroenterologist both before and after the procedure. After the colonoscopy, we will determine the condition of my colon, and decide if (and how much) surgery will be necessary. If surgery is in the works, then I will have to meet with the surgeon again, and schedule a time to have the surgery done. I’m hoping surgery won’t be necessary at all. But so far both my internist and the surgeon seem to think that surgery will be needed.

Of course if you ask a surgeon if you need surgery, more times than not they will tell you yes! That’s what surgeons do, and their way of handling problems is through surgery. I question if anyone can know for sure what is needed without the colonoscopy first. I will be relying on the opinion of the gastroenterologist who hopefully won’t have a dog in the surgery race. If surgery is really needed, then we better do it. But if things are such that I will be able to get by just fine without surgery, then that would be my preference.

At 11:30 am, they called my name. I had to go change into my cute little hospital gown outfit (at least they provide pajama bottoms so my shiney hiney is covered.) They made me drink one more cup full of that nasty barium potion. Then they inserted an IV into my arm, to inject an intravenous contrast solution (some kind of an iodine compound) into me. This would eventually filter into my kidneys and bladder, which would allow them to see how they are doing, along with how my now radioactive colon is doing as well! (Isn’t barium mildly radioactive?)

I finally got out of the hospital at about 12:45. I was stuck in there for nearly 3 hours! It was nice to be able to write while I was waiting. It helped pass the time while I was swilling the barium cocktail.

I won’t find out the results of today’s test until next week sometime. Hopefully all is well down there.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cathedral Valley

Recently we made a quick little weekend trip to Capitol Reef National Park. We all needed a break after the last few months of being homebound and dealing with medical problems.

We booked a room in Torrey, Utah, and headed South on a Friday evening. We arrived at about 10:00 pm that night. Fortunately the motel accepts pets, so we were able to take our little dog with us.

The next day we started exploring. The kids really enjoyed scrabbling up onto rocks and boulders. Mama and the kids also enjoyed collecting rock samples.

Later in the day, on Saturday, we ventured into the Cathedral Valley section of the park. There is a loop road, that takes you into this area, however, we didn’t have time to do the entire loop. At one end of the road, you have to ford the Freemont River. I had checked in at the visitor center to make sure that it was safe to ford the river. As we approached the river, Amy was quite nervous (even angry) that we would drive our perfectly dry truck through a river! After surviving the river ford, she warmed up quite a bit. We 4-wheeled through some sand dunes, and then climbed the trail up the side of a hill. Mama and Bryan wanted to get out and do some rock collecting, so I let them out, and found a place to turn around on the road. After Bryan and Mama rejoined us in the truck, we headed back down the hill, and were ready to ford the river again. This time Amy was looking forward to it! We made it through the river safely both times, and Amy was a happy camper. Later on, Amy actually wanted to go back and ford the river again, just for fun!

Cathedral valley was beautiful. We saw some prickly pear in bloom, with bright red flowers. There are two main rock formations in Cathedral Valley. These are “The Temple of the Sun”, and “The Temple of the Moon”. To me these rock formations remind me more of giant sailing ships, than cathedrals, but you be the judge.

(Temple of the Moon to is above, and Temple of the Sun is below.)

All in all, we had a really great time. It was good to get away, and get some fresh air, and see some of our beautiful Utah Redrocks.

You can view more photos from our trip to Capitol Reef National Park here.

What's Next?

Now that the tubes are out, what's next?

The first order of business is to continue to heal and remain infection free. I have a C/T scan scheduled in two weeks. Unfortunately I will have to drink that evil barium solution again. The purpose of this test is to make sure that I am infection free, and to make sure that any openings in the bowel or liver have fully closed off.

In early July, I will have a colonoscopy, and will consult with a gastroenterologist (GI guy) about the condition of my colon. We will determine if surgery is necessary, and if so, how much of the colon should be removed.

I have already met with a surgeon, who, of course, recommends surgery of all things! I understand he is an excellent surgeon, but I want to hear from the GI guy first, before undergoing major surgery.

So for now, I am just trying to get my strength back, and remain infection free. Hopefully I will get the nerve pain under control so that I can get some good rest at night too!


Its time for another health update. Things have been progressing along pretty well, for the most part. Last week the bowel drainage tube was removed, as well as the PICC line for IV’s. I’m tubeless at last!

I have been weaned off the antibiotics. For the past two months, home health care has been sending a nurse out to our home to draw blood, and change the dressing on the PICC line. Now that the PICC line is out, there will be no need for home health care to return.

With all this good news, I should be overjoyed! I can wear regular clothes, and sleep somewhere other than the recliner. I have lost about 50 pounds now, and needless to say, my clothes don’t fit too well anymore. I hope to be able to keep taking more weight off. This major disruption in my usual habits (some of them being bad habits) gives me the opportunity to create new and healthier habits to live by. However, with all the good news, there is a cloud in the silver lining. I am suffering from side-effects from some of the medications I was taking.

One of the antibiotics I was on, Flagyl, has caused damage to the nerves in my feet, and to a lesser extent to my hands. My feet burn and tingle, with some degree of numbness all the time. It feels like stepping into extremely hot water in your bare feet. So far, no medications have been able to reduce the severity of the pain and discomfort. Tylenol and Ibuprofen don’t seem to have any effect. My Dr. has prescribed Amitriptyline to reduce nerve pain. We are gradually increasing the dosage every couple of days to find a level that will be effective. However, so far, I haven’t noticed any lessening of the pain and burning sensation.

This problem gets worse in the late afternoon and evening hours. It makes sleep very difficult too. I go to bed at a reasonable hour (usually before 11:00 pm), but find that I cannot get to sleep until about 4:00 am. I don’t know if I am able to sleep then because the pain level has gone down, or if I just get so fatigued that my body can ignore the pain and discomfort for a while.
So while I should be excited for getting all the tubes out, I am still weighed down by this new problem. I will see the Dr. again on Thursday, and we will try a new medication, if necessary to try to get some relief from this condition, which I believe is officially called Paresthesia.