Tag Archives: death

Breathing Easy (or Not)

5 May


May 5, 2020

Day 45

For the record, I am ill. Under the weather. Sick. Feeling poorly. Less than ideal.

I have a recurring headache, a tiny off kilter trembling centered just behind my cheekbones and numbness in my hands and fingertips, but the real kicker is a persistent migrating congestion in my lungs that despite my best intention and mumblings about a river in Egypt, will not go away. Wheezing with the slightest exertion, every now and then hawking up mucous and spitting it out on my work bench to examine it for green streaks or blood or aliens, then wiping it up with a paper towel and continuing with my work, I’ve been ever mindful that Valerie has been unwell for far longer and that I cannot afford to be sick. Yet sick I am. So I telephoned my doctor and told asked her to look at my chart for May 7, 2019 and write me a prescription for whatever I had back then. She did and I’ve been taking prednisone and I’ll keep you informed.

Lungs, lungs, lungs. People tend to take them for granted until there’s a glitch. If the malfunction is serious then they don’t worry long, but that’s not often a problem as the lungs usually don’t just pack it  in suddenly. That’s more the heart’s department. Lungs are the long suffering organ of the human body. They absorb a lifetime of a smoker’s choice of combustion byproducts and hang on until the bitter end, fighting all the way to do their simple job of getting oxygen into the bloodstream. Or they are filled slowly, year after year, with coal dust inhaled by a miner trying his best to put food on his family’s plates and after a few decades of this there are no unspoiled alveoli to speak of in the tortured passages of his airways and he dies of Black Lung. Asbestos fibres are another killer that starts out in the lungs, and true to form, that unsung organ soldiers on for many years before giving up the ghost and taking its owners with it.

Tuberculosis, cancer, emphysema, the names of lung diseases are legion. My particular disease is asthma. I daresay there are a great deal more obscure lung diseases that start with the letter ‘A’ that come before asthma but, nevertheless, I’m right there in the ‘A’s’, so I have that going for me. Considering what’s happening in the world right now, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about vaccines, and in my research I’ve come across several accounts of people who developed asthma right after they were vaccinated as children. Vaccinated for what, you ask? Tuberculosis is the main one. My grandfather had tuberculosis and lived, only to die of emphysema much later from chain smoking Marlboros. In looking into what was in vaccines back then I ran across a recurring chemical named Thimerosal.


Back in the day (mid 1950’s), almost fifty percent of Thimerosal was composed of mercury, which was used as a preservative. The mercury was considered an inactive ingredient, but, by weight and dosage, it’s use pushed children way above the limits for mercury poisoning then and seems to have been in use until the turn of the century.

What does a three year old boy in the 50’s know of any of that? Precious little. I was simply the child in our house who had asthma and that was that. Luck of the draw. I dealt with it as well as I could and never complained. It was was it was. Looking back though, and talking with childhood development specialists I realise that the disease had to have taken its toll on my energy and stamina throughout my youth and thus affected my ability to absorb information during school and to process it afterwards during the homework portion of life. I was always behind and while I am not blaming the disease on my lack of Nobel Prizes on the mantelpiece, it did affect the course my life took.

I remember being responsible for the exiling of all furred pets from our house, for being excused from the work of sweeping out the basement during monthly cleanups, for being the sick one, of having to be cared for just a little more than others in the family. When I wanted to join the cross country team in high school I ended up being the manager instead. Pop Warner football league for two years in my early teens was a struggle, first because I was a skinny, lightweight kid and second because I had no wind.

When my number was called during the 1972 draft (last year of the draft for Viet Nam and I won the lottery with number 68) it never occurred to me to use my asthma to dodge that responsibility. Instead of being hoovered into the army I chose to enlist in the navy and then had to lie through my teeth re my medical history to make it to the physical at the induction centre. There I held my breath, no pun intended, because though I had no special love for, or desire to be in the navy, it was something I’d set my mind to and I did not want to fail at it. As it turned out, I had a pulse and the rest was history. (Though I did have to repeat the lie when I volunteered for submarines and then again to be selected for naval nuclear power school.) Fire fighting training was a challenge, as I did not want to have an asthma attack when they placed us in the training building on hose crew teams and then set the other half of the building on fire. Same with the tear gas training room. Always wondering if I’d suddenly lock up and pass out and be kicked out. But I never did and never was. My lungs ceased to be an issue for for the next 38 years unless you count the times I stayed too long in the same room with a dog or in a house where a dog or cat lived. I learned about albuterol inhalers and exercise induced respiratory distress and I was smart about my exposure to allergens and I coped.

Even living on the Big Island of Hawaii with its constant VOG did not hold me back. I worked on a wind farms and in a restaurant for a while then joined Atlantis Submarines in Kona, Hawaii. After my career as a tourist submarine pilot (had to be SCUBA certified then for maintenance requirements – another test for my lung capacity) I worked construction (lots of treated wood sawdust and few masks).  In 2010 I was able to pass a rigorous spirometry treadmill test in order to be in the running for a job at the summit of Mauna Kea at the Keck Observatory. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got the job after the first candidate they chose couldn’t handle the altitude. A curious thing about working at the summit is that without exception, everyone behaves as if they are short of oxygen up there – because they are. Once in the door and assigned to shift work at night I found I was able to handle the low oxygen levels fine and did so for the next 6 years.

Then a leap of faith into another life and love led me to my last physical examination, the one required to be granted a residence visa for New Zealand. This one was not too hard and I passed with flying colours. Found the property we live on now and began building from nothing and over the last four years noticed something strange. For some reason, whether because I was living in the midst of the rot and genesis of a podocarp forest, or because I was (say it ain’t so) getting old or perhaps my life of breathing asbestos from navy ships or VOG or sawdust or extended periods of extreme high altitude were catching up to me, I don’t know, but for whatever reason, take your pick, my asthma had returned.

The building of a house alone, using a shovel to slowly excavate and sculpt and shift the land, clearing under-story trees and scrub, all these and more are candidates for being the possible or cumulative cause for my lungs diminishing in capacity. Personally, I think it’s age and a short use by date. I’d gotten a few respiratory infections that I couldn’t shrug off as quickly as I’d hoped, but nothing serious. I kept on working (the house wasn’t going to build itself) and was doing just that up until two months ago (actually, I’m still building, but I’m using scavenged or saved materials) when along came the Covid-19 Contagion. Hey, presto! – and suddenly I’m thinking about my my lungs more than usual, which, for me, is saying something.

The fact that I’ve got a lung infection right now (which is being seen to and worked on, thanks to Valerie’s persistence and love) was the catalyst for this post, but the contagion is the active ingredient. I am, as you’ve no doubt heard by now, one of the herd destined to be culled. One of Darwin’s least fit, so to speak. I am that person the young are talking about when they blithely say, “He was going to die sooner or later”. (Come say that to my face and see who meets St. Peter first.) But the young are young, they want to be out of lockdown and back to doing whatever the smartest people on the planet do, so I understand. I wish I could fast forward a few decades to that time when the realisation that they were not quite as smart as they thought sinks in. The expression on their faces would be priceless and of course there’d be the spectacle of them being marginalised or dismissed by a younger and equally clueless generation. Different people learning the same lesson over and over again. Life on earth.

But it’s not all bad. There are some bright spots out there for the discerning observer to see. First of these are today’s numbers, fresh off the press from the New Zealand Ministry of Health…

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Minus 1 New cases. (How that happens I know not, but I’ll take it as read.) 26 Recovered cases. Ratio of recovered cases to active cases is 87%. And an exciting first today – 3 Zeroes in the Zeroes department. Notable among these is the first day since the count began that there was no change in the number of confirmed cases. ZERO growth. That’s yuge, to paraphrase a politician of note. Really yuge. No change in the number of people in the hospital and Zero deaths again over the last twenty-four hours. Bada-bing, bada-bam, bada-boom! I love it. It’s a big day for New Zealand and big day for me because I have a vested interest in continuing the long saga of my lungs, specifically the part where they keep working.

On that note I saw a video posted by an emergency room doctor who said that though the  current paradigm has doctors preparing for and treating patients suffering from the Covid-19 virus as pneumonia and/or ARD cases, they should in fact be looking deeper because, he said, it appears to him that everyone he’s treated and who has died appeared to be suffering from high altitude sickness. Which I had Zero trouble with during my time at the observatory. An obscure connection? Perhaps. But it’s good news to me and it gives me hope, because, unlike the person in the photo below, who gives me no hope, I know what it is like to really have difficulty breathing.


AEasier to breathe


( https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8283957/Covidiot-explains-cut-hole-face-mask-makes-easier-breathe.html )


You can’t make this stuff up.

(On second thought my friend Russell Gayer could make it up. https://www.amazon.com/One-Idiot-Short-Village-Characters-ebook/dp/B079848Q3K

On third thought, he probably did, and paid that lady to do it. Kentucky’s not too far from Arkansas.


Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 12.51.32 AM


Give me hope for the human race, Russell. Tell me you put her up to it.







Joining a Murmuration (or) Bud Cowart’s view

8 Jun

Here is this week’s submission for Madison Woods’ FridayFictioneers. I knew what I would write about the moment I saw the picture below. Blimps, airships, dirigibles, Zeppelins; silent, imposing, and fantastic, have figured large in my life. More on that in my next post. This one must go out now. The link to Madison’s story is here. Join in the fun by reading, commenting and posting a link to your story.

The airship rose, lifting us all into the sky. I scrambled up the thick brown rope, then slid down and sat on the wide wooden toggle. Gripping the line hard with both hands, I took stock and only then realized everyone had let go except Bob and Nigel, who each dangled, white knuckled and ashen faced from two of the tethers.

Far below, my frantic shipmates looked like a murmuration of starlings swooping to and fro above the dusty floor of the mesa.

 After a while, unable to maintain their purchase on this life, my friends took flight to join them.


(You’ve read the 100 word story inspired by the photo. Now here’s a slightly longer tale from another perspective and some information to put everything in its proper place. If you’re pressed for time (WordPress joke?) please comment and drive on, but if you have a few minutes, please add what follows to your thought process. Aloha, D.)

Wednesday, May 11th, 1932.

 We were just forty boys picked for an easy detail toward the end of boot camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego.  We stood to morning quarters, ate chow, then boarded a bus that took us the ten miles out to Camp Kearny. Scuttlebutt was that we were going to be ground crew to help the Akron land.

 Orders were to grab hold of the bow lines and hang on. Sounded like fun and kind of was until the ballast system gave up the ghost. Those in the know cut the main mooring line to keep the huge airship from doing a headstand and when they did there was no stopping her ascent. Wish they’d told us that.

 We really tried to do our job, but things got way out of hand. I was one of the seven you can see in the newsreels who let go early enough to live and be forgotten. It was no big deal; I’d jumped out of haylofts higher. Bob and Nigel waited too long and then couldn’t secure themselves. When their strength gave out they fell for what seemed like forever, legs and arms wind-milling to their dusty impacts. Bud Cowart hung on like a limpet and lived to tell the tale. Even got himself a tour after they hoisted him in.

 The Akron eventually landed and thirty-eight of us returned to base that night as men.

 I’d been thinking about striking for Aviation Metalsmith but airships had pretty much lost their luster. Too risky. Besides, I knew a yeoman who said he could get me orders to the battleship Arizona in the Pacific Fleet. Magazine tender. Sounded like easy duty.

(Thanks for making it this far. Thought you guys and gals might like to know about the Akron and the heyday and hubris of the big airships.)(Skip the ad right away–sorry about that–it’s a content driven world, alas.)


6 Apr

“All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” Edgar Allan Poe

100 word story for Madison Woods’ FridayFictioneers. Find hers here and read all the other great stories, leave comments and a link to your story if you’ve decided to get your feet wet. Aloha, D.

Water fills my mouth with the taste of loam. Sunbeams illuminate my slowly billowing dress as I tumble along the muddy bottom into unbearable brightness and a letting go.

It was just a recurring dream until I saw the picture in a travel magazine. I knew the spot even though I’d never been there before today.

County records note the drowning of a four-year-old girl in the War Eagle River on Maundy Thursday, April 1969. Three states distant and one day later, on Good Friday, I came wailing into this world.

I stand on the river bank, unhinged in time.

There is a Season

2 Dec

Below is my 100 word (plus a bit) story in response to this weeks photo prompt from Madison Woods for #FridayFictioneers.  (The phot is shown below.) Thanks for reading and commenting. Be sure to check out the other stories  at http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/flash-fiction/placeholder/ and don’t forget to post your own.

Last year deep in his winter, weakened by the effort of holding on through eighty-five turns round the sun, my father at last let go and was gone from us. When we buried him beneath the bare trees that grace our valley, my son, Scott, stood tall and straight beside his new wife as tears glistened in his eyes.

They’ve had their first child since then and named him after Alan. Scott’s long summer is just beginning; all around him life bursts forth in green riot and he sees only his season.

I write to tell him I love him.

Later he’ll understand as he walks the path I now tread beneath fall’s rustling eloquence.

Death in the Darkness (A Trial of Love) Part Three

26 Oct

Steve Brace loved his wife. The symbol of that love was his wedding ring. Drop the ring? Go and find it. Wasn’t that what he was supposed to do, he thought, as he stared at the red paint that coated the pressure hull two inches from his eyes. Face down in the narrow channel between frames, Steve Brace knew on one level that he was just bullshitting himself. The real reason he’d jumped in after the ring was that his wife would probably kill him if he showed up after the cruise without it. So what had he been trying to do? Save his love, so to speak, or save his ass? He thought for a long while and the answer that came back to him from the depths of his soul was that it was both. He did love his wife and yes, she’d be pissed if he lost his ring and that was reason enough to have gone after it. Never mind that she might be even more pissed if she knew what a foolish thing he’d done to find it. He wondered if he made it out, would he even tell her? The atta-boy points earned for dedication and true love would probably be cancelled out by the aw-shit points tacked on for stupidity. He’d never hear the end of it.

The end of it. Not what he’d need to think at that precise moment.

Steve wondered what the end of it was going to be. If he didn’t make it out he’d still be in the bilge when the startup watch section lit off the reactor and engineroom and they made way for the open ocean. There might be a chance that he could make his screams heard while they were starting up, but once they were underway no one was going to hear him above the din of the equipment in the engine room. He’d either die of thirst or drown as the bilge filled with sea water from the gland seal water of the secondary system pumps. It might take a while but one way or another he’d kick the bucket and eventually his body would begin to rot. Would the crew smell anything every time they pumped the bilge overboard, put two plus two together and finally find his bloated corpse beneath the lube oil tanks? How would they get his body out? Tie a rope around someone’s ankles and lower them down the way he’d come? If they came down from the port side they’d have to remove or smash in the screen that was blocking his exit just as he’d smashed through the one on the starboard side. It would be easy from above….

So how long did he have? Maybe another thirty-six hours until liberty ended and everyone came back on board. A day and a half. What could be accomplished in a day and a half with no tools and no room? He’d been making his way from one side of the boat to the other for almost an hour which was not too bad considering that no one else in the history of submarines had probably ever done it. Hell, one way to look at it was that the hard part was over. He’d found his wedding ring and all he had to do was remove the screen that stood in his path and claw his way up and out. No sweat. But the truth of the matter was that he had no idea how he was going to get past the screen. He only knew that that was what he had to do if he wanted to live to see his wife again.

With that thought to drive him, Steve Brace pulled and pushed and slid his way up to the debris screen, hooked his fingers into the mesh and began to take the measure of his enemy.