Things to read...

If time is short, I'd suggest reading at LEAST The Prologue and Legend of The Pinto Bean Posts!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A sample question from my finals...

Taking them this week, so I figured I'd post a "sample" of the kinds of questions we seem to get, and a pic of my response...

A middle-aged National Guard veteran and part time pig farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, recently back from serving in the middle east, decides he's going to take his children, pet cats, and his ol' beagle on a raspberry picking trip in Guatamala. He leaves one morning after a night of heavy drinking with just some old bread and rare steak to tide him over. He shoos off some pigeons waves goodbye to his prize rosebushes as he gets in his DeLorean and heads to the daycare to get his kids. After taking off his nice shoes he retreives his children from the sandbox and they head to the airport. After landing, he quenches his thirst at a local water fountain and they head out to the Berry farm, which is next to a large forest that's being harvested. Sadly, because of the dust in the air, he is forced to whip up some contact solution using local water so that he can see. Being the troopers they are, they spend the night in the bush, sleeping deepest between 10 and 2, wearing only in shorts because of the heat. Finally, they have a breakfast of crab and watercress before heading back to the USA. Along the way they visit their uncle JB in the Appalacians where they have a tasty meal of fresh bear. After returning home, they each sneeze once. What color do I think his car is? Choose the answer that BEST fits the information above:

A) Grey

B) Gray

C) Silver

D) Metallic

E) Light Smoke

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some say freedom was won....

In basic training way back when I was just a wee little private, we used to sing cadences. Most of them centered around our women, and how some guy named Jody was having the time of his life. The rest were usually about blood, guts, glory, and hips big as battleships. One that I particularly had the refrain of:

"Some say freedom is free, but I tend to disagree. Some say freedom is won, through the barrel of a gun."

Now, I realize a number of people in these United States completely disagree with this idea, and as much as I'd love to think the world is sunshine, gummi-bears, and rosebushes, I know it's not. The sad fact is the Gummi-bears have gone on strike after decades of being offered only in basic colors. The sun is angry for being blamed for skin cancer, drought, famine, global warming, polar bear depopulation, and generally just being a hotheaded kinda guy. And finally rosebushes are protesting that early February massacre they are forced to endure every year. Point being, the world is not perfect as it is.

Today we take a moment to remember why we live the way we do. As this past week has shown, like it or not, people will have their say. People who may never contribute one iota to society have just as much of a say as those who gave all. This is because someone came before you, and made sure it was so. Centuries ago, when the British ruled the colonies, somebody was willing to step forward and say "I will go." Less than a century ago as the world watched in Europe, somebody else came forward and proclaimed "I will go." Again at mid century an American stood up and said "send me." Through Korea and Southeast asia, American's stood up and said "I too will go." Now at the beginning of another century, Americans are still standing up and saying "I'm ready." In almost every case, the enemy was not at the gates, yet still we went.

These men and women who stood ready, who stand ready, and who wait their turn all do it for their own reasons. Be they noble, monetary, or patriotic, still they stand. They go when asked, whether they agree or not. When they return, they may or may not even know why they went. They may not return. The price paid to them for following this call? It might be glory, it might be money, it might be a wheelchair, it may never be paid. The purchase made? That goes to us all.

The purchase was your right to continue living the way you do. Some people may feel we shouldn't be involved wherever we are. They may be right, they may be wrong. Because our military IS involved, we will never know "what would have been." We will never know if maybe a small nuclear attack was thwarted in some desolate cave in Afghanistan. We'll never know if some key player in a major biological warfare lab was taken down in Iraq. All we'll know is what we see now, and what we think it means. I often tell people to remember, we don't have all the information. CNN and Fox news don't have all the information. Whether we deploy or not is a decision made by people who DO have all the information, or at least have as much as they can get at the time. The sad fact is, those who deploy are the ones who bear the burden of circumstance. We can only hope they were used to further the greater good.

As most of you know, I'm a 2nd year medical student missing an arm and a whole lot of other stuff wrong you can't see. What many people don't know was that I COULD have not gone. I could have stayed here, joined the med school class that's now ahead of me, and maybe be better off for it. At the least, I'd still have a hand provided something else didn't happen. I'd still be in the military, working towards being a doc, and I doubt anyone would have faulted me for it. However, when the call came, I didn't. I stood up and said "I can go."

Today, take a moment just to say thank you to some vet. Whether they went or not, say thanks. Even if you despise the military, remember that it is their willingness to go that allows you to keep on despising them. Also remember, today is just the day we "officially" remember our vets. Remember that their job is not one day a year.

Finally.... to ETSU's NPR radio station 89.5 WETS, who decided at 12:07 today to play some good anti-military music, I'd appreciate it if you return my calls. While I do not expect you to play nationalistic music or anything, have a little respect.

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

-George Orwell

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why I'll be headed to Lowe's...

While on my trip this summer I had the opportunity to use some friend’s front loading washer and dryer to clean my stuff. Aside from looking ultra spiffy in their laundry room, these things performed miracles upon my clothing. My clothes were all noticeably softer, and my socks felt downright new. I was so amazed I kept a pair and a shirt separate just so I could check when I got home. We’ve all seen the commercial with the little bear talking about softness right? Well that bear ain’t got anything on this softness. These things were like laundry crack. Everything else felt like sandpaper after that. I was hooked. I knew I needed them. Prone to irrationality, poor decision making, and impulse buys, I headed down to that place where everybody knows my name; Home Depot.

At the Depot, I headed straight for the washer/dryer section. I knew where this was as I practically lived there last summer whilst pretending to be Bob Villa and destroying, I mean remodeling, my humble abode. At least this time there was no risk of screwing me to something, an event responsible for numerous holes in my old prosthetic arm. Yes I really did drill into it. Several times. Anyhow, I quickly narrowed down my choices by utilizing the tried and true “what’s cheap and on sale?” method and pestered the salesman with 9048673256 questions about the amazingness of the chosen appliances. A few minutes later I was the proud new owner of the miracle worker front loaders, water into wine option still unavailable. I opted to have the Depot install them as it was cheap, and given that I could screw up making ice in Antarctica, it seemed like the safest bet. I mean, what could go wrong? Really… This is the story of what could go wrong, in the form of my angry letter to the Depot.

On 28 August 2008 two guys from Home Depot (Chris and an unnamed employee) came out to stack my washer and dryer after Jim from the appliance section forgot to install the stack kit. Approximately six hours after they had left, I came downstairs to find my garage/basement flooded. Assuming that the lines were improperly hooked up I mopped up the water and checked all the fittings, congratulating myself on a job well done. The next morning I found even more water on the ground and no evidence of leaky fittings. I called Home Depot about 9 a.m. to inform them that the sewage line out of my house was now leaking adjacent to the washer and dryer. I was assured someone would immediately get out to fix it. Finally at about 3 p.m. Chris and another employee came out to fix the issue. So much for immediately. Unable to resolve the problem, they tried a quick fix on the sewage pipe and informed me that no plumbers were available since it was Labor Day weekend. Apparently I was going to enjoy raw sewage throughout my garage for my labor day. I was assured that a plumber would be there on Wednesday at the latest, but most likely on Tuesday. I spent the weekend mopping 6-7 times a day…

Wednesday came and I stayed home to make sure I didn’t miss the plumber. Finally at 4pm I called HD again to talk to Chris and was informed that he didn’t remember saying that they’d be there by Wednesday but in any event they would DEFINITELY be there Thursday. I spent Thursday at home enjoying my sewage pool and waiting on the plumber. Again late that afternoon I called Chris and was told that there had been “a water heater emergency and that it took priority.” Apparently raw sewage isn’t nearly as bad as cold water. Strange that in my training here in medical school we learn the bugs like C. difficile and E. coli can be bad for you. Let’s not even think about Black Mold. Anyhow, I was assured that no matter what, it WOULD be fixed by Friday. Now remember, this is over a week after the leak started. The sewage leak. As in feces, urine etc. sewage. Well finally Friday came around and I excitedly anticipated the arrival of the plumber. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Friday afternoon I called back to Home Depot and talked to the “manager on duty.” She promised that she would get this resolved as fast as possible. I gleefully continued to mop fetid water out of my garage…
Amazingly, within an hour, a real live plumber called me. Apparently he had just been called by HD about this. Yes, eight days later and after numerous promises, HD finally called the plumber. Now this seems a little odd since he supposedly has known about this for a week now. Well he again informed me that there was no way possible he could make it on the weekend, but he promised to be here between nine and eleven on Monday. Finally, the sewage crisis was going to be fixed. Oddly enough, I’ve now developed a chronic headache and sores on the inside of my nose. I wonder if it has anything to do with the stagnant water in my house? Well I must also say that the one upside is that detritus has filled some of the leak by now, so I don’t have to mop as often…

Well Monday, twelve days after the first leak, arrives and I get up early to make sure I don’t miss the plumber. I check the leak, which is now relatively small, but still present. I then park my rear on the couch and watch the clock. At precisely 10:58 the phone rings… It’s the plumber… He tells me he probably won’t make it out. I remind him he SWORE he would be here before eleven, and explain that this is the third day of school I’ve missed. He somehow has forgotten he ever promised to be here before eleven, so I ask my roommate if he remembers this. He does. Finally the plumber professes that he can be here no later than five p.m. and we’ll have it fixed tonight, no matter what. By this time I pretty much understand this to mean “you’ll not see me at all today, and probably not tomorrow, either.” Therefore I’m hardly surprised when five rolls by with nary a phone call. Finally, at 6:01 p.m. I collect my mold spore addled senses enough to call the Home Depot corporate line. I explain to Mr. Ceary my predicament with the sewage, and also mention that I spent over $30,000 last year at Home Depot. Yes, I used the last of my insurance money from losing my arm to renovate my house, purchasing nearly all my supplies through HD. While I realize that to Home Depot 30K isn’t much, to me it represented and arm and a leg… Well at least an arm. Ceary puts me on hold a few times while attempting to remedy the situation. Finally he comes back and explains that the people who handle these matters are gone for the day. He tells me he will continue to work on it and swears to have it resolved in 24-48 hours. At this point he might as well promise to get it done using pipes manufactured by leprechauns and hauled to my house on unicorns, as I would believe that just as much as 24-48 hours. Sadly, my house now has a distinct “fecal smell” which I think might have something to do with the pipe in my basement. I also think this will be the last time I EVER shop at Home Depot. To me thirteen days of sewage leaking while vehemently promising its’ repair does not constitute customer service no matter how you stretch it. I guess tomorrow I will contact my insurance company and a lawyer to see what can be done about this. Until then, I’ll make do mopping up the putrid water, minimal as it may be, still leaking into my basement.

Well after a couple more days of waiting and never hearing back from the elusive “Mr. Ceary” I decide that yet again I’ve been bamboozled, and head down to the Depot. Now I’m angry. While I may have but one arm, the other one end in stainless steel hook, attached to a formidable sized torso. You don’t want to see me angry. You won’t like me… when… I’m… annggggry. GRRRRRR!!!! Ok so maybe I’m not quite the Incredible Hulk, but I’m damned sure the One Armed Man. Well at the depot, I proceed to inform the managers there of just how much they suck, and how much it’s about to suck more if I don’t get this fixed NOW. They quickly call the plumber who lies and says he’s TRIED to call me with no luck. I offer to show them my phone call list for the last week. They decline. Finally they say he can be there the next day at four p.m. I agree to this, replying with something like “so help me God, if he isn’t there by 4:00:00000000000001, I will unleash Hell. Gangs of your pipe wielding leprechauns and unicorns with whistle tips (woo woo) will be no match for the destruction I will cause. You will need to build another home Depot next door just to supply the building materials to rebuild this one by the time my anger has subsided!” At least that’s how I remember it…

Well the next day the plumber actually arrives, and I nearly go into cardiac arrest. A mere two weeks later and this is gonna get fixed. He then tells me he didn’t bring the right part. GRRRRRRR…. I think the expression on my face inspired him to go get the right part, as he quickly left and returned with what he needed. Ultimately he managed to fix it, which pleased me to no end. He also got quite the scare when BTD and RTD managed to push a cinder block out of a seven foot high window frame so they could see into the garage. Sometimes, justice is small but welcome. Even if it is in the form of exploding bricks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Meet 'Bella the Demanding

Well I've finished the first couple of tests of medical school and I now have a good seventeen seconds or so with which to type a new story. Unfortunately for those who've anxiously awaited news about Alaska, that's not what it's gonna be about. Nooooo not at all... See here at Casa de Daniel life moves at a pace somewhere just faster than gossip out of Hollywood, and Alaska is far from my mind. What is close to my mind, other than school of course, is the new addition to the household. At the end of the summer that consisted of five members. There was: me the high strung and overly excitable peabrained amputee. Stu, my beer making, low strung, uber-mellow yet still a medical student roomate. The ever lovable yet not so bright and somewhat confused Hyperdog Rocky, and finally the diabolical and evil incarnate ferrets, Samson and Snatch. Now the number crunchers out there will immediately notice that all the pets are mine, and my roomie has nothing. Well that was all to change... This is the story of that change.

When I first got back from my trip this summer I had heard that my roommate wanted to get a dog. While I had no problem with that I knew that two dogs in the house all day would be a bad idea. Fortunately this is easily solved by putting them all outside. Unfortunately the only thing that was outside was the dog run for Rocky. I figured putting two dogs on one dog run would be a horrible idea. Visions of doggy bondage danced in my head... After talking to my roommate we decided that we would split and the cost of a fence. This didn't seem like to big of a problem, but you also have to realize that we live in the Johnson City area. Let me take a moment to explain what I mean...

See, here in Johnson City there is an attitude that prevails 99.9999% of the time when dealig with any sort of subcontractor. The attitude is along the lines of "I'll do it when I FEEL like doing it and you'll be good and glad that I FELT like doing it." This can be slightly annoying, but apparently business here is so booming that there is little one can do to thwart it. Anyhow, I called the fence guys and they agreed to come out the next day and give me an estimate. By next day, they mean "sometime in the future, but definitely NOT tomorrow." I was hardly surprised when three days later they showed up to get the estimate. While they were here I shamelessly mentioned the whole disabled veteran thing in the hopes I might get a little discount... I think I did, though I prefer to look at it as more of a "lower on the priority list" sale. That all said, we agreed on the price and they promised to get started on it no later than the end of the week.

Well since we knew that we'd have a fence in a matter of days, Stu went out and found his new dog. While I myself wasn't a part of the selection process, I can imagine it went something along the lines of "yeah, I'll take her..." Well with his selection made and the Rocky dry hump of approval stampesd on her back, Stuart and his new charge came home. Stuart was now the proud new owner of a mixed breed bundle of energy.... She was about six months old, golden in color and short in hair. She was loveable as can be, and smart in all the ways that counted. She was wrongly named. Apparently somehow Stuart decided she looked or acted a lot like an "Isabella" might. Apparently he settled on this name because the National Hurricane Center already had dibs on "Katrina" which was much more suited to her personality. Either which way, she was home, and home was enjoying its' last moments before hurricane Isabella rolled into town...

Now I must admit that 'Bella, as she has become known, is a decent dog. The decency all ends, however, the moment you allow her out of your sight. For now though, let's focus on when she IS in sight. Firstly, I've taken to referring to 'Bella as"I WANT!" This is in reference to the fact that no matter what the case, whatever RTD has, she wants. If he has a bone, she wants the bone. Not A bone, THAT bone. Initially she would trot on over and bark at Rocky until he dropped it. Rocky, being the genius he is, caught on to that after about the 84678983th time she did it. Once I WANT! figured out that merely barking no longer worked, she quickly came up with a new ploy. She now will go and grab one of RTD's favorite toys and carry it to him to play with. Rocky, a kid at heart (and brain) will then drop said bone to play with Bella. Bella then takes the bone, leaving a bewildered RTD in her wake. Sadly, he has yet to catch on to this trick, and it doesn't look like he will soon. This also works for any other toy, stick, ball, etc that Rocky might have taken a liking to.

Now when Bella isn't stealing Rocky's wares, she's usually playing with him directly. This he loves. They will play chase for hours. Rockstar will chase Bella until Bella collapses, and then he'll bug her until she plays some more. Never in my LIFE have I seen an adult dog wear out a puppy before this. Another past time is 'rasslin' which sadly has become the most entertaining thing in out household. Rocky's general approach to this it to lie on his back and allow Bella to jump all over him. We've noticed that RTD oftentimes will be lying on a toy while wrestling Bella, and we've decided that he has managed to achieve doggy nirvana by simultaneously playing with Bella and scratching his back. Maybe RTD isn't as dumb as he looks... Ok that may be stretching it.

Well back to hurricane Bella... When she gets out of sight, nothing is safe. Well nothing except a chew toy, which seem to be immune to her destructive fury. She so far has destroyed enough hi-liters to raise their stock price, ripped apart several boxes, gnawed on a few shoes, and turned my expensive and well-taken care of Ray-Bans into a gnarled mess. I should also mention she passed on several Wal-mart brand pairs of glasses to get these off the table. Not only is she destructive, she's a snob. the only thing Bella has found so far that she didn't enjoy chewing on were the ferrets. When she finally attempted to get a mouthful of tasty mustelid, she ended up becoming just another chew toy on the ferret menu. Sometimes size doesn't help...

So now here we are two weeks later.... The fence has finally been finished a mere fourteen days later than promised, and Bella's reign of terror over the tasty objects of the house has come to an end. I wish I could get some video of her and RTD kickin' butt all over the house, but everytime the camera comes out Bella comes over to see if it is a tasty treat... Until next time!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Alaska, Part 1....

Well my summer has sadly drawn to an end and my last hurrah has come! It's my trip to Alaska, land of big bears, big fish, and snow. In July... Each year for the last three years, the Wounded Warrior Project has offered a trip to the lovely little city of Kodiak, Alaska. I got the opportunity to go last year, and managed the opportunity to go again this year, thereby missing the first day of school again. Hey at least I'm consistent!

The trip to Alaska is a week long, and consists mostly of fishing and eating, two things I both enjoy doing. I spent the week before attempting to landscape my tiny little house up a bit to maybe improve the resale when that day comes, or at least make it look a little better while I'm here. This consisted mostly of my digging a few holes. About a hundred to be more accurate. Needless to say I managed to break my prosthetic in the process, proving that some things haven't really changed over the course of my summer.... I'm still hard headed and insist on doing what I want to. Anyhow, a hundred liriope, a couple azaleas, and a lot of mulch later, Rocky effectively had a new salad bar and it was time to get ready for Alaska. As for Rocky, he spent most of his time attempting to eat the newfound greenery while avoiding the shovel handle swung his way to interrupt his dining experience.

Packing for Alaska was handled much the way I handle my packing. Wait until the last possible moment to wash and fold a bunch of clothing, then toss it all in a big suitcase and hope I got it all. Toss in a few prosthetic thingamajigs and a shave kit and call it a day. This time consuming process tends to take about five minutes leaving me with ample time to wander the house aimlessly trying to figure out what I'm leaving behind. At the very least this method makes unpacking an experience akin to Christmas as I discover just what it is that I'm gonna have for the week. Oddly enough I forgot nothing, though there was a brief heartpounding moment where my future looked decidedly "commando" if ya know what I mean (think underwear). Anyhow, an early wake up and short jaunt to the airport and my last great adventure was underway!

My flight was set to depart from Tri-cities regional in East TN and end up in Kodiak, AK via a long day of the exciting and fun filled aviation experience that we have come to know and love here in the US. Of course, this trip must begin with the ubiquitous "full body cavity superterrorist search" that all military disabled get to enjoy. This entails me standing around while my ID is given a thorough inspection followed by the "physical search." This search is usually conducted by a guy who looks like he's having more fun that me... It starts with the customary "will you take off your shoes?" request that I never comply with. Tying shoes is a big enough chore with a hook that I don't feel like doing it unnecessarily in the interest of "safety." I've learned I still get the free "you might be a terrorist if" check anyhow, so why bother.

After we argue about the shoes, I then get the wanding. Of course this thing beeps anywhere there is metal associated with my prosthetic, and this earns me the "full patdown prize!" A few minutes of groping usually still fails to turn my frown upside down, though a few times the groper seems to have really enjoyed it. This makes me more nervous. Once my molestation has been doled out appropriately the final fun starts... In order to ensure that we as a nation are ensuring that our wounded combat veterans aren't a threat to national security, we get the final wanding where my prosthetic get swiped and swabbed in ad nauseum to ensure there are no bombs hidden in my hook. My favorite part is where my fellow travelers get to gawk at the guy with the hook getting the spa treatment behind the big glass partition. I'm not sure but I think the TSA might charge for this free show. Anyhow, once my story of "innocent amputee traveler" has been confirmed by the Thousands Standing Around (TSA) I'm finally freed from my Gitmoesque holding cell to rejoin the general population of weary travelers. At this point I'd like to extend a special thank you to Homeland "Security" for their unwavering and infallible execution of ensuring that the nation remains safe from those sworn to defend it. Good job guys!

Once through security, I get to actually get on the plane and make my way north! This process is usually a little more worrisome for me given my aviation track record and knowledge of the "incidents" that tend to happen... I usually try to keep all this to myself so as not to scare other passengers. People tend to get a weird look in their eye when they find out that you lost a body part in an aviation related crash. For people who are particularly obnoxious however, the gleeful delivery of this statement "At least I crashed after flying an hour! Most crashes happen within the first 60 seconds after takeoff... Hope we beat that again this flight, too!" ends all said obnoxiousness... If only there were some way to end that "middle seat elbow fight" as easily.

Well sixteen hours later I arrived to the welcome of the shining sun of Kodiak. Did I mention it was about ten at night? I met with the WWP representative and went and got checked into the hotel in anticipation of a fun filled week. This was gonna be fun, and my biggest hope was to see a bear. That was about the only thing I didn't get to do last year. Before I get too much farther, let me take a moment to explain this whole trip...

Three years ago a small group of wounded were invited to come fishing for a week in Kodiak, and enough fun was had by all for this to become an annual event. Last year I made it up for the trip and had so much fun I jumped at the opportunity to go again. The trip revolves around days of fishing for salmon, halibut, and a variety of other fish. The nights are then dedicated to amazing dinners sponsored by local groups who are helping out with the entire trip. After that most guys have a few tasty beverages at a local establishment and then retreat to hotel to get a few hours of shuteye and ready themselves to do it all again the next day. On the outside, it appears to be just another "guys (women too if they want!) week fishing" but the reality is there is a lot more to it. The trip offers a chance for wounded service members an opportunity to just "get away." There are no agendas, no health care professionals, no "higher-ups". Just a week of hanging out and having fun. This year even saw a few changes that IMO made it even better. To the guy on the trip the therapy of being around a bunch of guys having fun, the chance to talk about whatever, is worth a lot more than hours spent on a therapists couch. In addition to the mental decompression that occurs, the physical fun and challenge of learning how to fish for BIG fish, as well as learning the associated skills of open sea fishing is worth more to most guys than any dollar amount can reflect. Anyhow, this wouldn't be possible without the overwhelming support of the people of Kodiak who open up their schedules and time to help raise money and support to make this all happen. I'm sure the logistics alone are mind boggling! For this, I salute you!

Anyhow, I'm gonna break up this trip into a couple stories over the next few weeks. For now I'll leave it at my arrival there, and pick it up with the fun of fishing so stay tuned!! Pics should be up tomorrow too, I hope!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Into the wild

Well everybody, I've made it to Alaska, more to follow!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Follow-Up!

Hi everybody.... I've not just fallen off the face of the earth, I've just been really busy trying to recover my house from my trip...

When I finally arrived home from my trip, all was relatively well at the Daniel household. The lawn was a little overgrown, and it was really hard to get the environmentalists to stop protesting my destruction of the wildlife reserve that it appeared to be when I finally mowed it down, but otherwise it was ok. Rockstar was thrilled to get to frolic through the weeds and pee on his favorite schnauzer next door. This is a pretty ritualistic thing for them. He goes outside, the schnauzer runs to the fence to squeal, and RTD calmly pees on him. Repeat as necessary. The only real difference now is that there's a second schnauzer. Fortunately for RTD, they stand close together...

Once in the house it was evident that no one had broken in to clean my place up, and I was slightly disenheartened at this. The only issue presented itself when I waded into my garage. Yeah... waded. Unfortunately, Johnson City apparently had been the victim of heavy rains and animals marching two by to, and my garage apparently served as the reservoir for the water that came with it. The good side of all of this would be that I don't really have much of value in my garage so there was no real "damage" done. It took a few days to mop and evaporate it all out, but now it's back to being the dank place that I know and love. That all said, I spent the rest of the week attempting to landscape my yard a little bit. I'm not sure if anyone here has ever attempted to operate a shovel with one hand, but let me suggest that you pass on it if that was in your weekend plans. I planted a lot of liriope and put in some cheesy walkway lights since whomever designed the stairway on my front walk was obviously a fan of M.C. Escher... After digging roughly 100 small holes and planting a metric arseload of vegetation, my good friend called to inform me how I did it all wrong, so who knows if it will take. Even if it does, I have to keep and eye on RTD as he is excited at the prospect of this new and intriguing smorgasbord that I have given him. He's already managed to ravage a couple of plants...

So now on to lessons learned. First off, this is what I feel I've learned. I don't necessarily AGREE with it all. Saying this, I'm sure I'll still get a little hate mail from someone who didn't catch that.... These are based on my discussions with people, as well as the thousands of e-mails I've gotten and the comments on the blog. So onto the lesson!

The best thing I think that most surprised me would be American people's desire to help people. I am not even going to limit that to "vets, wounded, bloggers" or such, because so many people were willing to help for reasons that had nothing to do with my service. While many people were voiced their pleasure at getting to help a vet, a number of people readily admitted that they weren't too concerned about my service at all. Some people even just wanted to see Rockstar... The sheer number of offers I had to stay with complete strangers was simply overwhelming. People who had nothing to offer other than a meal and a floor were still vying for the chance to help. Had I been able to stay one day with every person who offered, this trip would have lasted into the "years" category. I had offers from all walks of society, too. I met people who obviously were liberal, conservative and other. There were those who were well to do, and those who were scratching to make ends meet. In all honesty, I feel that the "economically poor" were probably more willing to help than any other group. Don't confuse me here, I'm not passing judgement or looking down my nose. I am simply awestruck that those who themselves are worse off than me still want to help. I met and corresponded with people throughout the USA, as well as the rest of the world. I had e-mail bidding me well from around the world, from people who've never set eyes on my country, and will likely never meet me. I met people who were nearly speechless as they tried to convey their feelings about my trip to me in a thickly accented English, underlining their immigrant background and their pride to be here now. All in all, I'm that much more proud to be a citizen of these United States, and above that a member of this worldwide society.

Conversely, if there is a "negative" to this outpouring that I've been able to detect it is this. While I think the majority of Americans WANT to help, I think we suffer from a few problems. The biggest one I would venture to say would be a nationwide sort of "bystander effect" and "crowd psychology." The analogy is this: If you were standing alone and saw a little old lady fall down, you would MOST LIKELY offer help. However, if you were standing around with twenty strangers and saw this, MOST LIKELY everyone would stand there and ignore it, silently wondering what to do while actually doing nothing, just like the rest of the crowd. This phenomena has been demonstrated many times over, and I feel it exists in this context, too. While most American's are aware of combat wounded coming home, we don't know "what to do" about them. We want to help, but we look to our left and our right, to our neighbors and friends, and we see that they are doing just as we are. They are doing nothing. So there we stand, awkwardly wishing we could do something, perhaps even voicing that something should be done, yet never taking the initiative to do it. We don't do this because we're bad people, we do it because we ARE people. I think people were so willing to help me because they saw in my trip an outlet for their desire to help. I appealed to the masses on my blog, though those who read it were largely "alone" at the moment. Quietly you sat at your computers, reading my adventures, seeing the "little old lady fall down" and alone you decided to help. In my blog, there was no crowd to look at, no one else to draw an initiative from. There was simply me and you, thousands of people all standing alone, ready to help. For all of this I thank you. So now here is what I hope to see. I would love to see people find an outlet for their desire to help. I'm going to leave my blog up and even update it where I can for everyone's entertainment. I'm also going to leave my paypal link up for donations, every penny of which will now go to The Wounded Warrior Project. I also may try to link a few other worthy organizations to this blog in order to present other opportunities to help to those who want to. I know some people only have time to donate, and maybe this will give an outlet for that.

A few other things I'd like to mention... I received quite a bit of mail from my Pisgah trip, both good and bad. Some people were glad I "told it like it was" while others were discouraged that I was so "shallow and sophmoric, and won't make a good doctor" because of it. That said allow me to expound a bit on my beliefs as well as probably anger more people... I mentioned the obesity thing for a few reasons. It's a problem. Period. There is no other way around it, it is an issue that is only getting worse. At 18 years old I had a 38 inch waistline and did what most everyone else I know did. I blamed everybody BUT myself for the problem. That and I downed no less than three bags of peanut M&M's a day along with 4-6 20 oz pepsis. Even after I got in the Army I was still "overweight" by standard, and barely passed the bodyfat test. Then one day I had an epiphany. Maybe if I ate less food and worked harder, I'd be in better shape. No more blaming Mickey-Dees for serving me that burger. No more cursing "my genetics" for being "big-boned" (which actually I'm not... I have the bone structure of a small woman... stupid genetics!) I again faced this issue when I lost my hand. I was in amazing shape at the time of the accident, and I dropped from 215lbs of solid muscle to 168 lbs of not so solid muscle. Then I started the climb back up to 215 lbs of no muscle. I got chubby enough that my underwear band rolled over on itself... I realized that many amputees simple gave up on working out, and accepted that they would no longer be in shape. Not all, but many. Especially upper extremities. Eventually I found out that there was a prosthetic made for weightlifting, and after a bit of self-pity, back to the gym I went. Now I'm back to 195 pounds, can bench press well over 300lbs, and can knock out 25 pull ups and 90 push ups on a good day. I still suck at running, but now it's more to do with my legs going numb from my spinal issues.... Why am I saying all this? To qualify the rest.

I realize that not everyone will or wants to look like a magazine model. However, I also realize that people are allowing themselves to go down a bad road with obesity. When I see children that are maybe ten years old, and they are my weight, SOMETHING is WRONG. Some people will cite genetics, but sadly that is not the case most of the time. The reality is VERY FEW people are genetically unable to maintain a healthy body. Most people just follow that path I was on and blame everything but themselves for it. Anyhow, some people felt that I lacked empathy for voicing my thoughts on this, and poking fun at it. To that I say I must disagree... I am quite empathetic and I try to do all I can to help anyone I know to get themselves to where they want to be. Ask any of my friends and they'll roll their eyes at just how much I try to help. However, as an aspiring physician, while I think empathy is indeed important, I also feel that the ability to be frank about situations is also needed. Too many healthcare professionals turn a blind eye to issues like this out of fear of "offending someone". I come from a family of nurses who can all tell stories of parents who become angry if they or the doctor even hints that junior or themselves might be... oh my word... FAT. While it is a touchy subject, happily it is a CURABLE subject! Some will have to work harder than others, and most would have to make sacrifices, but all can attain the results! Very few other "diseases" can offer that. Finally, as for the "penguin" comment... this IS just a blog, which I have been writing for entertainment value as well as to tell my story. Sometimes something just seems funny, and I go with it. Would I walk up to someone, or even list them by name or picture on here with such a crude comment? No. No, even I am not that mean spirited of a person...

This all brings me to a last point of learning that I can take away from this. I've written a lot, covered a lot of ground, and touched on a lot of subjects. One thing I have certainly learned is that the maxim "you can't make everyone happy" hold true. Some people e-mailed telling me I didn't deserve t call myself a Christian because my stories and my blog didn't bring enough credit to God or His word. On the same day I'd receive mail from people attacking me for mentioning religion, chiding me for "shoving it down their throats." The same held true many of the subjects I mentioned. In the end I responded minimally to any of this because I am not here to argue viewpoints on the Internet. I merely took away for myself the viewpoints of others, both good and bad. Here at the end I offer my view on life. Live it and let it go. If I read something I disagree with, something "offensive", something "ignorant", I take a moment to try to view it from the other side, then I let it go. I don't let it eat at me, and I try not to let it color my view of the issue. Entirely too many people get up in arms over non-issues which simply serve to empower the issue. If you laugh at the "offensive statement", you take away it's power to offend. When you consider the "other sides" position rather than just discrediting it because it disagrees with yours, you make yourself more knowledgeable on your issue. Anyhow, these are just my thoughts, laugh at them if you want...

Well that sums it up for today.... I definitely have more topics I plan to discuss here so no worries, the blog is not yet dead! Alaska merely days away so I hope to provide more entertainment and life experience for your reading enjoyment. Also, still looking into the calendars, so please keep a watch there!!

Finally, The Book. Sadly, I don't think anyone is interested in publishing this, so who knows. I had a number of contacts initially, but most have fallen away, and the few who have responded to me basically voiced that the story "didn't hold the emotion they were hoping for." Loosely translated as far as I can tell, happy stories don't sell like a tragedy does. If you need any more proof of that, buy a newspaper or just turn on the news and see how many "tragedy stories" there are compared to "feel good" stories. That or maybe this thing just kinda sucks.... hehe

Anyhow... stay tuned for more!!

With pictures!

What has happened to our hero??? *cough*RTD*cough*

Biff!! Booom!! Poww! Tune in soon to find out!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The long road home!

Well I've been delinquent in posting for a bit because of weather reasons. When I last posted, I was in Jacksonville, Florida and about to head home. I left out and went up the east coast a ways before heading on up towards North Carolina. Well unfortunately for me storms moved in and I had to make the decision to either sit in my truck and watch the rain for a few days, or press on in to Johnson City, and then return to NC a day later. Well obviously steaming in the Bean with RTD making sweet doggy love to my ear as he tried to get me to let him out didn't sound too appealing, so I opted to go home for the night. This also allowed me to clean up the Bean a bit and have a good nights rest in my own bed! Mmmmmmmm bed... Anyhow, I decided Saturday would be Pisgah Day, and early Saturday morning I headed on down there.

Pisgah is a relatively large National Forest that surrounds Asheville, NC and takes up a good portion of the western tip of NC. I opted to head to the area West of Asheville because of an article I'd found in a magazine I'd "borrowed" from a barber shop in Vegas. It detailed several natural water slides, and the Pisgah had one. I've already mentioned how much I like water, but I also enjoy jumping into it, and sliding through it, too. Waterfalls to jump from are easily found. Natural slides are not. What Pisgah offers is a 60 foot solid rock slide that has been worn smooth by eons of water coursing over it. This was bound to be fun!

The road leading up to Sliding Rock is typical of what you'll find in this area of the Appalachian south. Lush green trees overhang a narrow winding road that courses it's way up and down the various mountain valleys, seemingly lost within itself as it slowly leads you to your destination. Alongside the road runs that meandering river that is also almost as lost as the route you're on. Cell phones, satellite radio, and the garminator are all pretty much useless here from the green canopy that perpetually shades the road. After about ten or so miles of this, I arrived at Sliding Rock. Or should I say I arrived at the line to get into SR. After a bit, I finally made it to the front of the line where I paid my $1 admission fee to the redneck riviera. After watering Rockstar I headed down to gaze upon this great rocky wonder. While it's nothing in comparison with Schlitterbahn or other man made wonders, the fact that it's a natural waterslide is still amazing.

I made my way down to where the line began and got my place and began to observe the waterlogged obesity epidemic that surrounded me. I'm not gonna say much because this is a topic that infuriates me, but out of about 200 people there, maybe twenty, MAYBE I say, weren't overweight. Call it whatever you want, fluffy, pudgy, big boned, whatever, but in the end it boils down to "eats too much, does too little." Before the hate mail comes in, let me say that I work my tail off to stay in shape. I have one arm, and still manage! Trust me, I know the effort that's required. Anyhow, back to the line. Basically you stand in line for about twenty-thirty minutes depending on the crowd to slide for ten seconds into a mountain stream. Worth it? Oh yeah.

After a bit of time in line, I'd made my way to the top. On the way I'd witnessed all manner of technique for navigating the slide. I'd also nearly burst an eardrum as a redheaded teenager screamed her whole way down the slide. I think someone had just told her the NC had just enacted a lawn banning twinkies, but I'm not sure. Once at the top, I decided to just go for the standard right down the middle slide. I sat down and pushed off with my one arm and slowly slid a ways. Apparently my swimsuit material was made of sandpaper or something else the kept slowing me down. Finally I hit a steeper pitch which simultaneously allowed me to gain speed and attempt to reverse feed myself my swimsuit. At the end I hit the little drop off into the pool of water where I learned the other secret of mountain water. Despite being shallow in nature, and the air temp hovering somewhere around "spontaneous combustion", the water temperature maintains a balmy 48 degrees. As my toes entered the water, time slowed down as my brain began to prepare for the imminent future that was to come. Quickly my legs went in and my brain began to warn me of polar bears. As my wait and chest went in and the wedgie came out a bit, relief was nowhere to be found as my lungs had apparently gone on strike. About five hours later I was up to my nose and relatively certain the fat little girl across the pool from me was actually a penguin. Finally I was completely submerged where the mammalian dive reflex was in full force allowing me to survive for the hours it seemed to take for me to reach the surface. One at the surface I began my violent thrash for the shore just twenty feet away. Forgetting I was an amputee I found myself swimming in a circle. Again. Correcting my drift got me safely to shore where I renounced all that was warm, and got back in line. Yup, I was going again, atomic wedgie, cold water and all!

My second run down was a bit better. This time I'd studied the curvature of the rock and decided on an off line run. I went left of the well worn path to a slightly bumpier but more moss covered lane and pulled my trunks as far up as I could in a friction saving self induced wedgie. I then took a bit of a sliding start and went down the icy lane to the depths below at a much better clip. The polar bear club experience was once again waiting for me at the bottom, and once again I entered the water full of regret at the error of my ways. Again I semicircled my way to shore gasping for breath and shivering violently. I again forgot all about how cold it was as I got in line for a third trip down. Yup.... dull spoon here!

Once finished there I toured on up and down the road at Pisgah a bit more, scoping out areas to see the next day. I camped at the park campground where beer and hot dogs were consumed, along with smores and other tasty camp foods. Then I laid down for one last night in the Bean. Sadly my bad choice of foods led to a restless night of nightmares as my gut repaid my brain in kind for the evils that I'd laid upon it at dinner. Oh well... gotta have fun, right!

Today I went to a place called Looking Glass Falls where again I swam around in the frigid water. I brought RTD out and threw his toy for him. I beamed with pride as he ran straight into the water to get his toy. No longer does he timidly dance around at the edge before slowly going out after his toy. Unfortunately I threw his toy into the waterfall where it was sucked under and is now probably still on spin cycle at the base of the falls. Fortunately Rockstar was smart enough not to go in after it, so we ended up leaving sans toy. The rest of the drive home was spent on those same mountain roads, overlooking the wonderful views that are just a part of living in the Appalachians. If I had to sum it all up in a word, I know of one that covers it all. Beautiful!

Well everybody, this more or less concludes my trip. The Alaska trip will be from the 28th of July to the 4th of August, and will be made with the Wounded Warrior Project. This is a yearly fishing trip they offer so it will be done by air to Kodiak, Alaska, and RTD will be back here in TN. Last year there were lots of stories from it, so I'm assuming this year will be no different! That said, Daniel's Big Trip will continue, even if in a different vein! Between then and now I will post a few "lessons learned" blogs so keep checking back for those! Also, a calendar SHOULD be coming together so please keep an eye out for that! Until then!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Project

To the few of you who've managed to struggle through reading all of my rambling posts, you've heard me mention a time or ten The Wounded Warrior Project. Well my trip has culminated with my visiting their headquarters... As one would expect, things went well, I was happy, and Rockstar got into stuff. This is that story...

I stayed the night with my hookah loving buddies in Hudson, FL (NOTE: lots of people questioned just WHAT was IN the hookah. No worries, it was cherry tobacco. Even I'm not so dumb as to post about drugs or anything, and that's not really "my thing" (or theirs) anyhow...) I got up the next morning and readied myself for my trip to Jacksonville. My friend was busily adding to his blog, something he'd never even HEARD of the day before. We ran out and got lunch in his brothers brand new GT 500 Shelby Mustang which he is storing for him. Just to let everyone know, I did massive smoky burnouts, lots of donuts, got it up on two wheels, and knocked out a few "Dukes of Hazzard" style bridge jumps in this cherry new car. Ok not really, but mostly because Logan was wise enough not to give me the keys, but it's coming, mark my words... After pounding down some steak and sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeet tea, I headed to Jacksonville and the Wounded Warrior Project.

The drive up to Jacksonville took me back across the landlocked central Florida area, where the Spanish moss grows in abundance, and teeth apparently don't. There were quite a few large thoroughbred horse farms which brought back memories of my horseback riding adventures... If it's possible to crash a horse, I'm your guy... My g/f in undergrad had a huge Tennessee Walker, and horses were her life. She tried relentlessly to get me to ride, and finally I agreed and she taught me how. Now I've ridden horses a lot in the past, but this was different. They ride bareback. She kept her horse with this old pork barrel like mare that had been living the good life sitting out in a field and eating grass for the last several years, generally avoiding morons like me. This was about to change.

Now I'd ridden a few other horses with her before so I generally had the hang of the bareback thing, but that was always on old broken down nags. I have to say that my first few jaunts were scary since there was no real way to "hold on". Once one becomes accustomed to riding bareback however, saddles become even scarier. Well this horse I was riding, Gunner, was a bit more spirited than the others and was also my most regular mount. We generally did well on our long trail rides as long as Gunner could follow her walker, Wyatt. The problems would arise when they got separated or Gunner couldn't see Wyatt. Gunner would become nervous and unresponsive to me, and I would mostly sit there stupidly and wonder what to do next. My seventeen minutes of experience didn't give me much to fall back on... Well one day my friend decided she'd had enough of this and it was time to break Gunner of this little issue. She decided I would ride her monster horse Wyatt back to the barn, and she would ride Gunner a different way home to break the separation anxiety. Did I mention NO ONE rode Wyatt except her? Did I mention he was HUGE? Was it mentioned that I had more time on the nickel horse in front of the drugstore than I did on real horses? Yes, this didn't go well.

Well as we changed mounts she reminded me just to be firm and relax and there was nothing to worry about. Easy for her to say, she wasn't sitting on top of a friggin Warhorse. Well Wyatt and I set off for the barn just a few miles away, and things went somewhat smoothly. Wyatt was a little agitated and kept looking back for the other two, but continued to follow my commands, and I started congratulating myself on my mastery of the beasts. We made it to the home stretch where the biggest danger still lay ahead. The Goat Farm. Now for the equestrian challenged like myself, let me explain something. Horses are giant musclebound thundering beasts that are scared of absolutely nothing. Well nothing except dangerous stuff. Things like werewolves, nuclear warheads, goats, paper bags, their own shadow, lawnmowers, gnat farts, windblown leaves and most everything else that would strike fear in the hearts of anything. The big test for me was to get Wyatt past the goat farm without him entering into a blind panic. I'm sure you think you know where this is going... Well you're wrong! In a demonstration of my horsemanship skills, I navigated Wyatt past the goat farm without incident, in spite of numerous bleats from the predatory goats, and a few attempts to get away made by Wyatt. With the big danger behind us and myself preening atop my steed, we made our way down the last little way to the barn which I could already see above the corn. This last strip was a six foot wide grass strip with a cornfield on the left, and a big ditch and road on the right. Well as we entered the last hundred yard strip a riding lawnmower was being piloted along at the near end. Recognizing the danger I tightened the lead and navigated a nervous Wyatt along past it and onto the path. Then across the road another riding lawnmower came around the side of a house and started circling the lawn like the carnivore it obviously was. Wyattt began to get more nervous and started dancing a little bit. I started getting more nervous and began trying not to soil my shorts. I kept Nervous Nellie pointed towards the end of the strip and the safety of the barn while gently coaxing him home. Then a third lawnmower appeared, this time on a trailer on the back of a huge truck. It was at the end of the path. This was not a good thing. Apparently using their pack hunting skills, the feral mowers had manged to encircle us on the narrow path. Wyatt just stopped. Then the truck with the mower in back turned towards us. Wyatt was done. Realizing that his life was in obvious danger as the rabid and blood crazed lawnmowers descended on us for the kill, Wyatt did a quick calculation and decided he could run faster if he could drop a quick 200 pounds. He started bucking to get me off, and I started trying to hold on and get him back under control. When that didn't work, he whirled around in a circle and tried to stop fast to roll me off. My adrenaline filled legs held on as I screamed "WHOOOOOOA" in a prepubescent pitch. Seeing the the frenzied lawnmowers were nearly upon us, Wyatt started bucking and spinning at the same time. With this he managed to throw me high up onto his neck, but also ended up with himself toeing the ditch and slightly off balance. As I reigned rearwards and screamed "BACK", Wyatt rolled one wild eye up to look at me. Noting my unapproved seating position on his neck and sensing freedom was near, Wyatt executed one last little forward buck, and off I went. Now however, Wyatt was a little too far forward over the ditch and nowhere to go but down. Knowing that would allow the mowers to descend upon him for the killing blow, he jumped out into the road where he saw the mower laden truck descending in for the kill. Scrambling hard to get traction and whirl away, he lost all balance and fell on his left side just as I heard the sickening "THUMP" of my friends most favorite possession getting hit by a truck.

Well the truck hit Wyatt gull on in the back as he was lying on his side, and he spun a full 360 before coming to a stop. I sat there stupidly trying to figure out how I was gonna explain why she was now the proud owner of a half ton of dog food. Well upon completing his pirouette, Wyatt leaped to all fours and scrambled towards the barn. I was relieved. Then Wyatt remembered Gunner and company weren't AT the barn. Then Wyatt went the other way. At a high rate of speed. Why me... Well I apologized to the guy looking at his dented bumper and took off running after the horse, passing the now silent lawnmowers as their riders just sat and watched the spectacle continue to unfold in front of them. I'd chased Wyatt a good mile when I finally saw Gunner and my friend come running up from behind with her screaming at me. Apparently the only thing she'd been told was "yeah that idiot on that other horse just got it hit by a truck. They went thatta way..." Finally she managed to find Wyatt running in huge circles in the field which we'd departed earlier, still wild eyed and avoiding me. Once she got him under control we managed to assess the damage. Amazingly, Wyatt had a few minor scrapes on his flank, but was otherwise unscathed. Fate smiled on us all when Wyatt fell on his side, allowing his precious legs to avoid contact with the bumper while absorbing the energy of the hit on his massive hind end. I was relieved. Wyatt was happy to be back with the herd. My friend was still ticked. It was a long silent walk home...

Anyhow, enough of my equestrian inability, back to Florida. As I mentioned, central Florida is mostly poor rural farmland like so much of the south. As I neared the Atlantic coast, the urban sprawl of Jacksonville replaced the falling in trailers and moss covered oaks of the inland. Once in Jacksonville proper I managed to make my way through the spaghetti like organization of the inner city interstate system to the manicured corporate park that housed the Wounded Warrior Project. I was excited to see the headquarters of the organization that's done so much for me. As I pulled the Bean into the parking lot, they waved me in to the right door as RTD and I dismounted and headed in.

Inside, the entire staff applauded Rocky as he triumphantly entered the hallowed halls of the WWP. I think a few people noticed I was there too. Rocky was his usual timid self as he ran to and fro, jamming his nose into everyone's crotch. Finally he settled down a bit and I was able to let him off the leash while everyone welcomed us. The staff was so kind as to give RTD and I a plaque with the Wounded Warrior logo on it, which I must admit I was proud to get. I'd seen them before at events they'd hosted and always wanted one for myself. After introductions were made, the staff was dismissed back to more important matters of running the organization as I was given a tour of the facility. Rocky still jut ran in circles accepting all manner of attention from anyone willing to give it to him.

When you first walk in, you're greeted with a foyer containing the wall sized logo, the mission statement, and some pictures of our wounded. Off to the left is the exhibit portion of the Sacrifice Center, the name bestowed upon the headquarters building. The first wall you see stretches down to your right and contains stories about some of the stories of the soldiers that the project that the WWP has helped. Also is the current focal injury that the WWP has highlighted, currently the Traumatic Brain Injury. Rounding the corner of that wall to the left stretches the sponsor wall where notable celebrities pictures and stories are displayed for all to read. All of these placards are interchangeable so current stories can always be rotated in. Another left turn brings you to the inside "room" of those first two walls where the core values of the project are listed. Each of these values is listed along with a picture of a wounded warrior who can be heard describing what these values mean to them on the video that's displayed there. These wrap around to your right in a rotunda like fashion, as well as a couple silhouettes outfitted with prosthetics which have been donated by actual service members after they are no longer usable. The centerpiece of the rotunda are a couple of mannequins outfitted in the latest gear being used to help keep warriors OUT of the project. One must remember that the best situation would be no injuries. To the right of the rotunda, the names of sponsoring companies are proudly displayed for all to see. Crossing across the rotunda brings you to the hall to the exit on your left, and the offices on the right. Displayed prominently on this wall are stories of "Alive Days" and the pictures of the injured they belong to. Finally as you make your way back to the entrance foyer there is a wall of letters on your right containing letters written by the wounded and their families, detailing their appreciation for the project. There are lots of them, all unsolicited. This comprises the "tour" part of the Project. Also in the same area is the TRACK center which will be used to help educate our fallen to get them ready to go back into the world and rejoin the society the gave so much for. While I was there several members of Aaron Rental's headquarters touring while debating on helping sponsor the WWP. I mention this to draw attention to the fact that this is all privately funded. This isn't some governmental right/left wing organization wasting your tax dollars on $4683 toilet seats. These are real guys, many of whom are also wounded, doing their best to ensure our nation's wounded aren't forgotten. Take a moment to check out the WWP site and see what I'm so enthused about.

Anyhow, as my tour drew to a close, I heard RTD's diesel engine growl emanating down the hall, and moved quickly to see what he was into. I showed up to see Rocky with a cornered staff member. RTD was snarling and growling at the largest guy he could find, who was a looking a bit worried at the moment. He said RTD initially noticed he he prosthetic legs poking out from his shorts, and then started in on the growl when he reached down to pet him. What I noticed was RTD's stumpy tail wagging at 97 mph. I grabbed Rocky and immediately launched him into a vicious sounding playfight there in the foyer, much to the horror/amusement of all who saw and heard this. It sounded like RTD was out for blood... Once everyone saw RTD was just wanting to "playfight" tensions were eased, and Rocky was able to turn back to his first "victim" who now eagerly smacked RTD around. Turns out Rocky's "Cujo" moments are just his mentally challenged attempts at initiating a bout of playing with anyone he thinks will be game for it.

Finally my time at the headquarters drew to a close and a few of us headed out for dinner. We ate at Dave and Buster's, a first for me, and traded stories about med school, the WWP, and other trips we'd been on. Afterwards we split ways and I headed to my friends place there in Jacksonville for the night. The trip is sadly drawing to a close and I'm not looking forward to its' end. Fortunately for you, the loyal readers, WWP is sending me to Alaska in a couple weeks, so my trip isn't over yet! While RTD won't be there, I'm sure there will be adventures to write about so don't delete my sight just yet! Until then I've still got a bit more to go, so keep checking back! Homeward bound in the near future!!...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Guns and Hookahs!!

Hello all! I write this from my buddies place here in Hudson, Florida. I headed up here just north of Tampa from the mangrove swamps of Cape Coral as soon as my head stopped pounding. As usual I swore off alcohol at sun up, yet had partaken of tasty beverages by sundown. Don't get me wrong, my idea of "hard drinking" is pretty tame, and I average about two drinks a week, but sometimes ya gotta have fun! The trip back north was uneventful, but I did have a bit of time to reflect on a few things. I've been thrilled to go on this trip, and proud to be "sponsored" by so many people who've never met me. I'm not sure what the final tally will be, but I'm sure that it will go a bit into offsetting the cost of this adventure. In the end though, I think back to what the medicine man told me; money isn't that important, it's what you learn from it that is. I've received a number of e-mails from people thanking me for lessons they've drawn from me, and no they aren't referring to dumb dog ownership! here's one in particular though that sticks out, as I've had it both in person and in e-mail.

Apparently people feel somewhat inspired by what I've done. One thing people continually note is "how much I've accomplished in spite of my injury." Well here's my take on that... First, one thing I always say is that everyone's injury is grave to them. People make the mistake of thinking "oh I could never go on if that happened to me", or conversely "how are they letting THAT slow them down." Within reason, everybody's injuries are important and serve as obstacles to overcome. One thing that I do know is everyone has the capacity to go on and do great things, regardless of their injury. Be it a sprained back, a missing arm, or a wheelchair for life, the life you lead afterwards is a reflection on your inner self. I have friends and acquaintances who've had relatively minor injuries who simply give up, sit down, and do no more. I also have friends who have injuries that make mine look like a bad paper cut, and yet they go on to lead productive lives. Why? Because they chose to! These people knew that they'd never be happy lying in a bed being fussed over. they constantly sought the next challenge. Sometimes that challenge was walking, sometimes it was as simple as eating. In the end they did the most they could, and were all the better for it. I'm sure I could sit at home and draw a little VA pension, tell anyone who'd listen about my tales of woe, and many people would say I was well within my rights to do that. I don't. Instead I go tax my tiny brain trying to learn the art of medicine so that someday I'll be a decent doctor. Before that I taught myself how to frame, do plumbing, lay tile, hang drywall, lay concrete, and a host of other activities all while trying to renovate my little place. I do all this because I choose to. Every time I get down, I just think about the "do nothing option" and I press on. Ultimately, while I am thrilled that people look at me as an inspiration, I try to let everyone know that everything I've done, they too are capable. It all comes down to you and your choice. Me? I choose to live.

Ok enough of the rant, back to beer and hookahs... I made it here to Hudson in time to shoot the breeze a bit with my friends here. They recently found out they will be the proud parents of triplets, so there was lots of talking to do! I also showed them the wonders of the blogosphere and they have now set up their own blog to tell the tale of three kiddies and the life of being a cop, and ask advice from those who are in the know about young'uns. Hopefully it all goes well! After trading tails of in vitro fertilization versus life on the road, we settled down for some good steaks and water. Ok maybe not so much on the water... Logan's parents (of the couch/urine story) came in for dinner too, so the conversation was never dull. Finally, bellies full, we settled in for post dinner drinks and whatnot. This is when Logan busted out Ye Olde Hookah. Having never messed with one, I was intrigued. I myself am a staunch non smoker, but he assured me it didn't smell like an ashtray in Hell, and fired it up. I must say that the smell was in fact quite fragrant, which was even more intriguing. Finally I got up the courage (read: had enough to drink) to take a puff, and was amazed that it wasn't bad at all. Apparently the tobacco is flavored, and it also takes on the flavor of whatever liquid you bubble it through, i.e. wine, beer, bleach or what not. All in all, it's a lot like a cigar, where the goal is to enjoy the flavor (which cigars lack IMO) and not really so much about inhaling all the smoke. Well the hookah brought up tales of the middle east where we both have been, and it wasn't long thereafter before the topic of guns floated by, too. So here we are, two ex-infantry buffoons puffing on a hookah, talking politics and guns. While drinking. Then the cameras came out. First it was a picture with the hookah, then the brandy... I'll let the pics themselves tell the tale of the rest of it. Remember, you can click the pics for bigger versions... Hopefully at least a few people might be offended and will send me hate mail, which I will then find immensely entertaining.

After everything was put away and order was restored, the parents took this as an excellent opportunity to leave before things got too out of hand. We were then sitting around debating what to get into next when we heard the booms. Someone was shooting fireworks. We were out the door before the next set was off. We headed down the road to where his neighbors were firing mortars off as fast as they could. We brought along Logan's rinky dink black cat bottle rockets and quickly joined the fray. It went a lot like this... BOOM! BOOM! phhhtpop BOOM! I was reminded of the "Harlem Nights" scene where everyone had big guns and the one guy had a tiny pistol. It didn't take long before one guy was tying fuses together and other guys were lighting them. Two people bent over the mortar tubes, giggling with glee as they try to get all the fuses to light at the same time, then sprinting away before anyone took a round to the face! As this went on, neighbors began to gather to enjoy the free show that had manifested outside their doors. I think a number might have been betting on who got "blowed up" first. Probably didn't help that one guy out there was running around with one arm... The saving grace was that several of those involved were cops, and therefore viewed as professionals who knew what they were doing, and not as giggling half-lit man-kids with lighters and explosives. Anyhow, the night ended with no big incidents as I'd left RTD inside. I figured it would take him about three seconds before he started trying to go catch the fireworks...

Well today I'm headed to Jacksonville for a day or two, and then on back to TN. Like I said, I'll try to post for a bit longer about whatever I remember that I missed on the trip. Also, I must clarify, RTD is in fact housebroken, he only has issues if another dog has been there and peed first!! Hope everyone is still enjoying this!

Ernie and his balls...

Well the end of my trip draws near, but it's not done yet! Today I'm hanging out in The House of Whoop A$$ which was so gracious as to host me. I made my way here from Pensacola along I-10 which is pretty desolate up in the norther climes of the panhandle. An interesting thing there are the rows upon rows of pines growing in the sandy Florida soil. Obviously they are tree farms, but it's just odd that everywhere they are in long straight lines like giants arranged in phalanxes, ready to do battle with nothing more than the Florida weather which is a formidable adversary in and of itself. Once I made it through Tallahassee I headed down south on HWY 19 which is supposedly a faster way to Tampa according to that great dashboard deceiver, the Garminator. What the Garminator never tells you is that there *might* be 145767923 stoplights to slow ya down.... Not that I cared but don't you be fooled!

Sadly, one thing I noticed was that Florida away from the coast is kind of poverty stricken. A lot of trailers with cars up on blocks in the front yard, kinda like my place. I felt right at home. Where there aren't trailers there are huge groves of trees covered in the hanging shrouds of Spanish moss, reminiscent of portraits of the civil war era. That or Forrest Gump... Once I got close to Tampa I came into the strip mall and powersports dealer nirvana that is the Gulf Coast economy, and palm trees and other Florichic vegetation and architecture reminded me of the money that is still in Florida.

In Tampa, I made my way over to my buddy from flight school's parents place where they'd agreed to host Rocky and I. This is an agreement they probably regret now. See RTD has never seen certain things, like screened in porches. As soon as I let him out the back door, he ran headfirst at full speed into the screened in porch, and thankfully was rebuffed. Then he ran around and tried to figure out how to get out. I mean, the grass and trees are RIGHT there! There MUST be a way to get to them! When he was again confounded, he finally gave up and decided just to pee on stuff through the screen. With all that out of the way he was able to turn his attention to Oreo, their maltese/shitzu mix. Oreo was busily running around and trying to sniff RTD, and then humping his leg. RTD just looked at me with a confused look... He's never interacted with a fog this small and was unsure how he was supposed to go about humping Oreo's rear. Finally he gave up and just peed on Oreo, which nobody found amusing except me. After all that, RTD finally let go with the coup d'grace and dropped large Rocky Bombs on the cement next to the pool. I guess he figured if he was outside, that's good enough. After dinner we all settled in and hit the sack, where Rocky then decided to go do a little marking on the white furniture. Now he's NEVER done this before unless it's somewhere another dog marked, so I think RTD might have been trying to cover a little Oreo milk. I was dispatched to petsmart to get cleaner shortly thereafter...

After Tampa I made my way down south to the Ft. Myers area to meet Ernie who, had offered food and beer both of which I could not refuse. If there ever was a need for a "North American Guy" call, it would bellow "Steak and beer over here!!!" when activated. It would work well. Here we hit the local pub and downed beverages before heading home to play in the pool, which had already been the source of amusement today. Can you guess how? If you said "Rocky The Destroyer" you would be correct.

As I've learned, Rocky fancies the pool. Well his pool is different than any others I've seen in that it just overflows over an edge into a "well" about four feet below it that acts as a skimmer/trap. Well after a while of playing with the ball, RTD decided to try to play with two. This worked for a bit, but eventually one managed to fall over the edge into the well. Well RTD then swam over and peered over the edge ad the orphaned toy and contemplated his next move. While he did this I screamed "Rocky NO!" which roughly translates to him as "You better hurry up and do whatever it is you're planning!!!" Upon hearing this Rocky crawled up on the thin edge of the pool wall and teetered precariously while eyeing his ball. I unassed my seat and yelled at him "you better not! No!" Which again roughly translates to "Now or never!" Rocky opted for "now" and into the well he went. Once in there he realized that there was no way out and began thrashing around as I laughed at him. I finally got down and was able to grab his handy dandy Rockstar Carrying Handle that I make him wear at all times and pulled him out. Well as soon as he was out, he realized that while he was out, the ball wasn't. Luckily I was able to catch him midair as he jumped right back into the well. We had to restrain him until Ernie could fish both of his balls out with a skimmer. (How's that for a sentence to take out of context....) Finally Ernie took his balls away from RTD so we could dry him off. But the fun wasn't over yet...

With Rocky now dried and ball-less, he soon became bored. This was right about the time the pool was back to smooth waters, and RTD was able to see something he hadn't seen before. Where the jets blow water out just below the surface, it creates a ripple in the water. Rocky was intrigued. He sat there and watched it for a bit, debating on what to do. His first action was to try to paw at it. He managed to lean over and balance enough to paw, but he kept coming back emptyhanded. Odd... the ripples are still RIGHT there! Next he got on his belly and sniffed at it before jamming his head underwater to try to get a closer look. Still nothing. He then sat back and watched some more before choosing his final course of action. I looked over in time to see him on his haunches wiggling trying to judge how to jump onto it. I yelled another "Rocky NO!" which we all already know means "Do it! Do It Now! Get to the Choppah!" RTD immediately jumped in and once again came up empty mouthed, but alas, this time he could FEEL whatever it was making the ripple. Sensing that the prey was close, Rocky made his way over to the jet and then did his best to drown himself attacking the underwater jet. Once again the Patent Pended Rocky Carrying Handle was used to haul him back out of the water for some more drying off. At least Ernie was happy that this time his balls were safe and dry.

After all that RTD was put back inside and we headed out for the steaks and beverages. After dinner we headed to a little outside pub where I regaled all within earshot with my tales from the road and whatever else came to mind. As mentioned before, nothing makes me happier than an audience. Eventually, no doubt sensing I was nearing the point of no return as the area was starting to get more crowded, Ernie wisely hauled us back to the house where we were able to hang out and drink with the Captain, though the Doctor couldn't make it. Those who know me know what I mean (think Morgan and Pepper). Ultimately the night wound down and everyone headed to their places of rest where tragedy struck. apparently sometime during the night, a band of bat wielding thugs broke in and popped us all on the head. At least that what I think happened. that's what my head keeps telling me...

Well today it's back to Tampa to see my friends who recently found out that they are about to be parents. Times three. After that I'm headed to Jacksonville to see the Wounded Warrior Project people and a few more friends and then it's back to TN. I still have several stories to post so keep coming back to see what's new!!

Also if anyone here happens to work with a book publisher, feel free to lie and tell them this is the best thing you've seen since chocolate was invented and see if they're interested in helping me publish any of it!