Thursday, October 30, 2014

Too Busy

To my son Tommy,

I get it. People get busy. Voting is a hassle. But when you are older, and you think life is too hectic to bother, remember everything going on in our lives this week, and think of this picture and the fact your old man spared twenty precious minutes to vote early.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Talking In Tongues

To my son Tommy,

One of the funnier things that happened yesterday, and yes even in the direst of times the Downey genetic code seems to seek humor, was your Grandpa Leo speaking. He was all loopie from anesthesia. He was answering a doctor's questions, the exact same dozen questions that they keep asking every five minutes or so. What's your name? When were you born? Do you know where you are? etc. Then the commands. Smile real big. Push up here. Shrug big. Look left. Look right. etc.

Except for the droop in the left side of his face, he was doing alright. He was mumbling a bit but all things considered. The doctor or nurse or whichever health care professional would usually finish with some encouraging statement like "You look to be doing alright," to which your Grandpa would respond "You should see it from this side."

Well on the third or fourth set of questions, he started mumbling something that seemed incoherent. Oh no, here we go. The doctor and nurse were looking around the room at your mom and me, hoping for some recognition. I couldn't understand the mumbling at first. Then I caught the last word, "feo". Did he just call me, or someone else, ugly in Spanish? Worth a try. I answered him in Spanish and told him to speak English. Your Grandpa Leo retorted, "Besame el culo." Oh good. That is Spanish. At least if they crossed some wires in there, they just switched the language circuit rather than scrambling the language circuit. I won't repeat the couple other things he said in Spanish, because decorum prohibits it, but at least one of us in the recovery room understood him. That made the doc and nurse feel better. Not sure they would have been as happy if I translated directly.

Consequently, he asked every new health care professional their nationality. Evidently he wanted to either have a conversation in Spanish or make sure he could cuss them out and complain in a language they didn't understand. That probably offended a couple of them, because an old white guy was asking them where they are from so he seemed to be prejudging, and they would judge right back assuming he wanted to deal with some white guy like him. That was far from the truth. When the one doctor said she was Hebrew, your grandfather started talking Russian. Don't know how that erroneous brain connection was made, but it made me laugh. Oh well, your mom warned everyone about his odd sense of humor. I thought the best was when a doctor came in and dad asked where he was from. "New York City," replied the doctor before adding, "but my family is from India." The doctor took the question in stride, even though you could tell he had been asked something like this many times before in life and was just about tired of it. Later I explained to him the Spanish connection and the doctor seemed pleasantly surprised by your granddad's motivation for asking the question, and then preceded to talk some Spanish to him. It made your granddad smile. And anything that made him smile at that point made me smile!

Sinceramente , con el amor de su papá,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


To my son Tommy,

As I sit here in the NCCU waiting room of Johns Hopkins, anxiously waiting to be let back to see your Grandpa Leo, I am trying to digest everything that has happened in the past couple hours, days, weeks, etc. First, an update. Your grandpa is out of surgery but not quite out of the woods yet. We will see if he lost any motor function with the brain surgery and it looks like radiation might be in our future. But they got most of the tumor and your Grandpa Leo is alive, so all things considered, I suppose this is a success. 

Your Grandma Roro is being kept another night at GBMC and she is upset and blames me for that. I hope they can figure out why she is going through these delirium episodes but she is now a less than cooperative patient. I will see her later tonight and take my punishment in place of my father.

It occurs to me how amazingly interconnected life is. Had we not convinced dad to get that CT scan last Saturday? I spent years tending bar practicing getting the occasional belligerent drunks to behave and do my bidding. I had to use very similar tactics to get my dad to agree to the scans. Had I not met and married my wonderful wife? She just happened to start studying nursing which gave us a better understanding of everything going on. What would have happened if she was not there to help? Had dad not had the right doctors at the right time with the proper sense of urgency? Little miracles all.

Yet, it is still a sobering thought on how far beyond control life really is. As much as the little miracles of life entwine and help at the right moment, I am reminded that I have to trust in God. Even in those moments that defy all explanation, those moments where everything happens at once, like when you are in the ER for your mom and you get the call to get your dad to the hospital now, and everything that can go wrong seems to be doing so, faith may be the only thing to pull us through. Alright, I am starting to ramble...they better get your mom and me back to see your grandpa soon.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, October 27, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours

To my son Tommy,

"Alright son, if you could break away from work, I need to take your mom to the hospital," said your Grandpa Leo over the phone.

"Be right there," I replied. I could hear my inner voice saying, "You can do this. Your dad's neurosurgeon appointment isn't till Thursday," as I picked up my keys and headed out the door from work. I even thought to myself that it is important to take each issue at hand, one thing at a time. Work is busy and important but this is much more important.

Your Grandma Roro was out of it when I picked them up. Confused, delirious, but at least she was compliant. In fact that is a big sign of her having a problem... she doesn't fight going to the ER. We had been in the ER room for less than two hours when the call from your grandad's doctor came in.

Your grandpa's doctor said, with the recurrent facial ticks, that there is no reason to wait to act on his brain tumor. She had reviewed the MRI and read the reports. She said to go down to Johns Hopkins ER now and get admitted. They would get ready to take this tumor out because, benign or malignant, it was pressing on something. His doctor made some more calls and called back and said rather than sitting in ER she will have the admitting orders ready for him at Johns Hopkins and get down there as soon as he can.

This is one of those rare moments that I needed to clone myself. How in the world am I going to pull this off? I called your mom and she left her nursing school class to come immediately. But my heart and mind are split in about twenty different directions.

I am physically with your Grandma Roro who now is being admitted to GBMC and just got room 3428. Part of my heart and mind is with Grandpa Leo, who was brought down to Johns Hopkins by your mom and finally got the paperwork and room 68 on the 12th floor of Zayed tower. I am also worried about your mom and having to miss some class time plus she was having some sinus infection issues and is due her Cimzia shot. Another part of me is with your Great Grandpa Leo and Nana Jeanne hoping they can manage at the house for right now without anyone. And then I am worried about you and how we are throwing a wrench or your day to day schedule. Did I cover everything going on? I didn't mention work, which is always present and always busy and as soon as run out, comes up with new problems immediately. But that is the least of my worries.

They say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Evidently he thinks our family is filled with some serious tough as nail badasses that can handle everything at once. Oh well, I guess Noah would have been able to handle that flood easily if it came as a sprinkle over a years worth of time. We will just keep doing whatever it is we have to and I apologize now for any missed Daddy-Tommy time or any of the mistakes I am probably bound to make in the next couple days of being spread thin.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

No Bucket List

To my son Tommy,

This is your Grandpa Leo's brain. With this picture, there is bad news and good news. The bad news of course is that little white circle on the left of the picture, which actually represents the right side of the brain because it is a mirror image. The good news is your grandfather can finally prove to Grandma Roro that he has a brain. Sorry, maybe that is in poor taste but if your Grandpa Leo can make jokes and laugh about it, I will follow his lead.

After this MRI, we know nothing more than we did yesterday. The docs have to get together and look and read and guess. Then they will tell us the plan. We will talk about time and options and risks and who knows, they might get in there and take it out and put this whole thing off for another twenty years or so.

Your Grandpa Leo is taking things in stride, making uncomfortable jokes, and still pissing off your Grandma Roro. In other words nothing much has changed, except he isn't driving and occasionally has a facial tick. Oh and he wants to find a local bar serving gluten free Redbridge beer and order two more (aka tumor) beers. I told you the jokes were in poor taste.

The other day, as I was driving your grandfather back from a doctor appointment, he says to me, "You know, I was trying to think if I had a bucket list. I don't. There is nothing I desperately want or need to do."

I suggested that he create a bucket list anyhow but keep it simple. For example his bucket list should be "I want to eat Bertha's mussels." which of course he retorted that he has done that plenty of time. My reply, "Yeah, but have you done it this week?"

Our conversations during drives to and from doctors' offices have run the gambit. We talk about you, and mommy, and Roro, and your great grandparents. We talk about life and death and God. We talk about important philosophical principals and we talk about mundane things like cable internet speed and our online game. We laugh and joke probably a little bit more than we should.

But over the past two days, I keep coming back in my mind to that "No bucket list". Somehow, this great man sitting in the passenger seat next to me, facing a little white blob on a MRI that would completely destroy some people, has done it all, or at least done enough. Oh to live life, that faced with a potential end, you have no bucket list, nothing left unsaid or undone, and you willingly accept your turn to be the instrument in which those around you can receive the grace of God by taking care of you and those around you, even if it means facing suffering. Your grandfather is still teaching his son. The extremes this man goes to to drive home a lesson. Jeesh.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Subtle Hyperdensity

To my son Tommy,

Your grandfather went to the ER today because he thought he might be having a stroke. He was working in the yard and left side of his face started twitching. He is ultra aware of the signs of stroke, so he hurried in and told Uncle Kevin to take him to the ER. On the way, Grandpa Leo was pushing on his face and the twitching stopped. By the time I got to the ER, roughly ten minutes after your Grandma Roro called to alert us, Grandpa Leo was convinced there was nothing wrong and that he was wasting everyone's time and the hospital was out to financial optimize his visit.

After convincing my stubborn father that a couple quick scans might help us all sleep better tonight, he finally agreed to stay for a bit. Those scans, specifically the CT scan, aren't going to help us sleep better tonight. "Subtle hyperdensity in the deep/subcortical white matter of the right frontoparietal region." is a fun way of saying brain tumor. Later on in the diagnosis it says one of the possibilities is "metastatic disease" which is a fun way of saying it might be cancer. They wanted to admit your grandad and get started right away. But your grandpa decided to head home anyway and will deal with it through his doctors come Monday. In his mind, it is the weekend and he knows how hospitals work (or actually don't work) on the weekends and getting some fancy hi def pictures (aka MRI) right away isn't going to help his cause. I don't know if he made the right decision or not, but I do know you come from a long line of stubborn Irishmen, especially when it comes to our health. On the way home, Grandpa Leo expressed anger, not at possibility of having brain cancer, but rather that it is coming at such an inopportune time while he taking care of his wife, and his mom, and his dad. That's your grandpa for ya. It is that attitude of his that somehow has me not sleeping while I am here at my house rather than not sleeping while I am staying over at his house in case he has a seizure or something. Prayers my son, we need prayers, perhaps to God for his intercession using the ArchAngel Raphael who is the "medicine of God" and we include just about everyone in our family now.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

P.s. The pic was on my iPad because I was going through my wedding pics on my anniversary and that was one of the only ones with just me and dad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

All Is Fleeting

To my son Tommy,

I got anxious and nervous and agitated about work this morning. There was a screw up that could have cost the company some money and I had to fix it. Maybe I screwed up in the first place, maybe I didn't, but at the minimum I should have caught it. I like to think of myself as an attention to detail, "nothing can get by me" kind of guy. It unfortunately gives me a "world on my shoulders" outlook of life.

While I was ruing on this mistake and pondering on the steps to correct the mistake, all while driving into work a bit flustered and much more aggressively than I should have on a rainy day, I had an epiphany. All is fleeting. I was about to ruin my day, and maybe some other people's day, by letting this get to me.This is not going to ruin my day. In the grand scheme of things this is just another day with another challenge.

I get like that from time to time. I get all bothered and worked up about life, and money, and jobs, and mistakes, and such. I get like that to the point of missing what is truly important. It doesn't take a scholar of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius to realize that concern for such things is wasted concern. He wrote, "Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too." In other words, this too shall pass.

My biggest fear, and this one may be justified and worth my concern, is that you will watch me and inherit this trait. I don't want that for you. I want you to focus in on the more important things in life, such as love and compassion and faith and hope. I don't want you, as they say, "sweating the small stuff" because all of it truly is small stuff. 

I can give you that attitude, and abate my fear. I just have to change myself. For it is my example, for it is my way of living, for it is my worries, that will filter to you. You will adopt and adapt from us, your parents, first and foremost. Only by being mindful of myself, of my worries, and changing my response to the challenges of life, can I gift you the peace of life you deserve. Funny, of all the things you can give to someone, giving of yourself is greater than all the rest.
"Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my opinions." Marcus Aurelius

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Penis Seminars

To my son Tommy,

"Hey Daddy! Guess what?! My penis feels fine!" you yelled from your bed. I giggled to myself thinking that every man should yell this out every morning he wakes.

You see, you have had a couple issues over the past day or two. Two days ago at school, you told your teacher and the school nurse that it hurt when you went potty. We drilled you about this at home and you described the pain to be in your gut or your bladder. Through the influence of your great aunt, we got a late night doctor appointment with your doctor's office. The urine culture came back fine and the doctor said as long as there isn't a fever, there should be no infection and nothing to worry about.

Well, last night you complained about your penis hurting. This time it was something different and I assume the problems being back to back are coincidental. You were chaffed, and after going to bed you called down with your new issue. Your mom went upstairs armed with her nursing prowess and Caldasene powder to address the issue. A couple minutes later you called down saying it still hurt and started crying.

It was time for someone who could commiserate on a different level because he has been there. You see mothers, and for that matter women in general, have had (and often still have every month) more pain than you were experiencing. I could give you tons of visuals using metaphors about squeezing watermelons through holes and bleeding for so many days, but I'd prefer you to just take my word at this point. The catch is, having a higher degree of pain is not the same as being able to understand the very specific pain and worry when it comes to man parts. You needed someone who knew exactly what you were feeling. You needed your dad!

We decided you could sleep commando and that made you feel better for a little bit. But soon you realized it wasn't enough, so I had to stay up in your room discussing things. I felt like I was a keynote speaker at a seminar for one. So I decided to list out stuff we talked about as if they were titles for breakout sessions.

  • Proper Anatomical Terms: It isn't less embarrassing if he calls it a schwanstugel
  • Been There, Done That, I Cried: A personal story from long ago of an inflamed blackhead that popped up in a precarious location and how it had to be dealt with.
  • This Might Sting: A discussion of which bathroom wipes contain alcohol and how they interact with chaffed skin.
  • It Takes Time: An in depth survey into the power of Caldasene powder and how it isn't an instantaneous cure and most medicines rarely are.
  • Moisture Wars: A practical look into how adding toilet paper to your post urination arsenal may help keep you dry till you master "the shake". May also delve into "Penguin Walks" if time permits.
  • Clean And Dirty: How often is too often when it comes to showering? Are there alternatives? What are the things you can skip and things you can't in your daily cleaning routing?
  • The Commando Effect: An examination of the cooling, healing, and drying effects of ceiling fans and going without bottoms. Also including flips, flops, and folds and how position counts.
  • Distraction Techniques: How counting to one hundred can remove the focus from the pain.
  • Is There Nothing You Can Do?: Delve into the emotions of a helpless father who hears his son ask this when the son realizes the powder and counting and no underwear really hasn't done crap to better the current situation.
  • School Is So Going To Call Home About This: A hard hitting study on discussing post traumatic crotch experience as a kindergartner even though your mom told you not to and predicting the likelihood that a Catholic school might have a few questions.
Trust me son, this is the stuff you are not going to learn about in school. This is the stuff you are going to have to talk about with your son some day. It really isn't fun nor funny. You have to deal with this in all seriousness (while still maintaining a sense of humor) and with as much honesty and clarity as possible, even though it can seem uncomfortable and embarrassing. Luckily, I had a father and mother who taught me very matter of factly about stuff like this. That is why I can tell you very clearly what is what and tell you directly what has to happen. 

Thus endeth the penis seminars. I hope you have enjoyed our lectures and discussions and have found some useful practices to stop needless chaffing or at least to deal with the results the next time it happens. And it will happen again. And I will be right there with more info and suggestions.

Sincerely with love from your dad,