Thursday, February 25, 2010

Progress with Pain

Dentists inflicted much pain on me during my youth (See October 1, 2009 Post, “Unintended Consequences”). My horrific encounters with drills and scraping instruments without the benefit of pain killers had a lasting effect. I am terrified by the prospect of visiting a dentist.

So when a routine exam revealed that one of my molars was in serious trouble and needed to be pulled, I was not a happy puppy. I even got a second opinion. It confirmed the diagnosis. I was referred to an oral surgeon for the work, which came as a surprise. More than a dozen of my teeth have been extracted over the years, and every one was yanked by a dentist as part of his general practice. I didn’t know things had progressed to the point where a family dentist would refer extraction work to a specialist.

I did know that a lot of progress has been made in dental techniques since the days of “Painless” Parker, who was sued for claiming in ads that his work was painless. Of special interest was knowing that painkillers are more effective today than they were 40 or 50 years ago.

Fifty three years ago my last remaining wisdom truth was in serious trouble. I didn’t need any professional opinions to realize it had to be pulled. A referral from members of the family who owned the weekly newspaper where I worked sent me to “the best guy in town.” Town was De Pere, Wisconsin.

The De Pere dentist shot me full of local anesthetic that numbed a big part of my lower jaw. He had to split the roots before he could get the tooth out. He did that with a couple of smart whacks with a hammer on a chisel. I thought the world was ending. But I survived the jolts, the tooth finally was gone, and I was more than ready to get out of there.

“Where are you going now?” the dentist asked.

“Back to work.”

“Oh, no, you’re not. When the novocaine wears off, you won’t want to go anywhere. Call your office and tell them you won’t be in today. Then stop at the liquor store and buy a half-pint of brandy. Go home. When the bleeding stops, get in bed and drink all the brandy.”

I followed the advice. After sleeping fitfully from mid-afternoon until the following morning, I made it to the office. Constant pain accompanied me through that work day. The pain diminished gradually, but it didn’t disappear for several days.

After that, I didn’t let a dentist touch me without first administering a dose of laughing gas (nitrous oxide) to provide something of a feel-good aspect to any work on my teeth. My favorite caper was to schedule dental work for late Friday afternoons. When I got home, still somewhat goofy from the gas, a single martini usually was sufficient to launch me flying a little high into a relatively painless weekend recovery period.

Sandy, our keeper of up-to-date medical knowledge, briefed me on oral surgeons before my recent appointment. She said they usually are very skilled and offer all sorts of ways to reduce pain. Included, in addition to modern local anesthetics (novocaine no longer is used), are the old reliable “laughing gas,” oral drugs, intravenous drugs, and even all-out anesthesia to render patients unconscious throughout the procedure.

Sandy insisted on driving me to the surgeon’s office. She assumed I would be “put under” when my aversion to pain became known. Her opinion got backing as we waited. An assistant came into the waiting room and instructed a man to drive around to the back of the building. She said his daughter’s extraction was complete, and she would bring the recovering girl to the rear exit and help get her into the car. I thought, “Aha, they do put you out. I’m going for that if there’s a choice.”

A different assistant read my medical history carefully, asked a few questions, and took my blood pressure. “That’s really good,” she said. “Any bad reactions to anesthetics?”

“Absolutely none,” I said. “What are the choices?”

“Looks like a routine extraction. We almost always just use local anesthetics for them. The doctor will numb you up real good.”

Perhaps puffed up into a state of mini-machismo by the compliment about my physical condition, I lost my wits for a moment and said, “OK.” In an instant, areas around my soon-to-be-missing tooth were swabbed with topical anesthetic to numb the surfaces. I don’t recall topicals being used 50 years ago. I do recall jabs with local anesthesia needles hurting something fierce.

J. Mark Domin, DDS, appeared with some comforting, and not so comforting, news. He said my extraction indeed appeared to be routine. I felt good about skipping the gas. He said roots would need to be split, and I could expect to hear a “rasping sound.” I felt less good about skipping the gas.

However, when Dr. Domin numbed me with the big needle, I didn’t feel much of anything. I felt absolutely no pain as he broke off an old crown, sawed (I think) through the remnants of the tooth, and pulled the pieces out. I was told taking a nonprescription painkiller would be a good idea before the anesthesia wore off. I was given a prescription for stronger stuff that could minimize pain for two or three days.

I took no pain killers. When the numbness wore off, there was no pain. Hours later, there was no pain. Days later, there was no pain. Wow! Dental science has made mighty strides toward greater patient comfort in the last half century.

But improved dental technology has at least one painful price. Prominent in the post-operative instructions sent home with me by the oral surgery staff were these words: “DO NOT USE ALCOHOL FOR ONE WEEK FOLLOWING SURGERY SINCE IT DELAYS HEALING.”

Now, that hurt!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Cheesy Present

Fraternity brother Lowell Laitsch, an attorney in Alexandria, VA, perused a recent post and dispatched this e-mail:

“I note that the UW colors are properly reflected on the cover of Days with the Dads. . . even though you are now a Michigander or whatever. . . ”

The cardinal and white sweaters pictured on the cover of my book were gifts from Sandy’s mother, who lived in West Bend, Wisconsin. She spent hours knitting the three surprise Christmas presents. She got the colors just right. I have been among the most fortunate of men. I had a wonderful mother-in-law as well as a wonderful mother.

But even the best don’t always get it right. It happened on a visit to West Bend years after the sweaters arrived. With a little smile but no comment, Sandy’s mom handed me a cheesehead—the ludicrous headgear favored by rabid Packers and Badgers fans. I handed it back, and said “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one of those.”

“Didn’t you know that was a gift?” Sandy whispered to me moments later.

“No, but if did I probably would have said the same thing."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Dat General?

Choosing a Super Bowl favorite was a snap at our place. New Orleans for years has rated right up there with San Francisco among U.S. cities we believe are worth visiting many times.

In the early 1980s, New Orleans’ music was great, the perpetual party atmosphere in the French Quarter was a joy, and typical tourist activities were anything but dull. Like San Francisco, it was a good place to “take her along” on a business trip. We did that several times.

While business meetings occupied my time, Sandy spent enjoyable days scouting out the cities, often in a tour group. She was ready every evening with good ideas for an activity. We tacked a weekend day or two onto the trips at our personal expense to make time for at least one lengthy tour together.

In 1981, we flew to New Orleans the weekend before a national meeting for heads of U.S. Forest Service research information units. Among other things, we wanted to travel five miles south to the site of the most famous battle of the War of 1812. Gray Line had a tour going there by boat. It was a good one.

The National Park Service employee at the historic site did an excellent job describing the events of January 8, 1815. With his clever interpretations fueling our imaginations, we could visualize the redcoats coming out of the wooded area and marching into withering fire from a rag-tag American army led by General Andrew Jackson. I still recall one of the park ranger’s lines: “All of a sudden the fog lifted, and the Americans were looking straight down their gun barrels at the best-dressed army in Europe.”

We had special help with activity planning during our 1981 visit to New Orleans. My counterpart at the Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Bob Biesterfeldt, was there as a source of sound advice. Biesterfeldt had worked for several years at Southern Forest Experiment Station headquarters in New Orleans. He owned some rental properties in the city. He provided several good tips on where to go (and, definitely, where not to go) in the Big Easy. He even took me to a seedy little restaurant to experience the joys of a Po’ Boy sandwich after I said I’d like to go where the “regular people” ate lunch.

Sandy and I joined Biesterfeldt for early coffee before the Monday business meeting started. He asked about our weekend adventures. We started to give a glowing account of our trip down the river to the historic battlefield.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Biesterfeldt said, “I suppose some Park Service guy fed you a bunch of nonsense about the battle. They never tell tourists the true story.”

“It sounded real to us,” I said.

“I suppose he told you how Andy Jackson rode his big white horse up and down the line, telling the troops how important it was to win the battle and save the nation.”

“Not exactly, but he said something about Jackson’s fears that a victory there was sorely needed to keep the British from marching into New Orleans and splitting the country in half.” No one on the scene, including Jackson, realized that the battle meant nothing. The War of 1812 had ended 12 days earlier with a treaty signed in Europe. News moved slowly in those days.

“Well, he did try to fire up the Americans, but not with a bunch of patriotic jabbering,” Beisterfeldt said. “Jackson’s words really were, ‘Boys, I know that British general. He’s a Methodist. If he gets past us, nothing will stop him from marching into New Orleans. The first thing he’ll do is shut down every tavern, whorehouse, and gambling den in the city.’ When the time came, the Americans rose up and shot hell out of those redcoats.”

The Park Service version seemed more plausible. Whatever the truth, the Americans defended their turf with enthusiasm. The final score was not nearly as close as Sunday’s Super Bowl tally: British casualties 2,042, American casualties 71. Fitting right in with Biesterfeldt’s bogus account, one of the British dead was their commander, Major-General Edward Pakenham.

The Park Service interpreter squelched one myth about the battle. Pirate Jean Lafitte not only did not fight valiantly in the American cause, he wasn’t even there. He was several miles away. One version of history says he was on a scouting mission. Another has him sneaking away before the fighting started to enjoy the pleasures in one of his favorite taverns. As with many things related to New Orleans, take your pick.

And be joyful that, come hurricanes or high water, those Saints keep right on marchin’ in. The Super Bowl win just revved up the Bourbon Street party that never really stops.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

More to the Story

Just when you think you’ve said it all on a topic, up pops a new angle on an old story.

I thought a tale in Days with the Dads, my memoir, included every detail of the connection between Jerry Kramer, a five-time All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers in the 60s, and our son and me. It did. At least, it included everything I knew about that when the book was published late last year.

I was mystified, and frankly a bit miffed, about Kramer’s lack of interest in talking with me while we were seated next to each other for an hour or more in the Chicago airport. After all, I had told him I was a long-time Packers fan and admired his play. Only recently did I stumble onto a fact that would have guaranteed some Klade-Kramer conversation.

Sandy and I were visiting one of our local library’s periodic discount book sales. Sandy usually fills a couple of bags with titles to support her two to three book a week reading habit. I usually fill one hand with two or three titles. This time, I found more. One was a well-worn copy of Jerry Kramer’s Farewell to Football, published in 1969. I’d never heard of the book, and assumed he authored only two—Instant Replay and Distant Replay.

When we got home, I casually flipped Kramer’s book open, and read a few lines. One jumped right out at me. “I’d just pledged Sigma Nu,” Kramer said on page 106. That was at the University of Idaho. That was the same year I pledged Sigma Nu at the University of Wisconsin. Lo and behold, our family football hero and I were fraternity brothers! I just didn’t know it when we met at O’Hare.

Kramer’s Farewell book has a lot of personal information. He includes several descriptions of Sigma Nu happenings on the Moscow campus. He gives “clowning around” with buddies, including fraternity brothers, as one reason for his lackluster academic work. Kramer finished nearly four years at Idaho as a football and track all-star, but without a degree.

The Sigma Nu chapter at Idaho was known to be strong during the time I worked in the state and nearby in Utah. Its members included plenty of academic achievers, and a number of men who went on to become leaders after graduation. I met several who were successful businessmen in Boise. Throughout the 1980s, both U.S. Senators from Idaho—Republicans Steve Symms and Jim McClure--were Sigma Nus. I met one of them.

I did not meet McClure, but as far as I know, he served with distinction during his 18 years in the Senate. He was said to be strongly influenced by the mining industry, which did not always gladden the hearts of those of us interested in sound forest management. But mining was important in Idaho, and McClure was up front about his political positions. I saw no reason not to respect him.

Symms was another story. When we met in Boise in 1973, I was performing one of those low-level duties that sometimes fell to information officers. Wearing my uniform, I was working at a booth at the Idaho State Fair, answering questions about the National Forests and handing out maps and brochures. Symms had a booth almost directly across the aisle where he was promoting his candidacy for Congress.

The Symms family ran a large orchard and fruit processing business west of Boise. His campaign slogan was, “Let’s Upset the Applecart.” He was running hard against the status quo in Washington and what he saw as excessive governmental control on every level (sound familiar?). He and his supporters said some pretty nasty things about federal and state employees during that first campaign.

When the lunch hour provided a lull in booth visitors, Symms strode over to me. He offered a friendly smile and a firm handshake. “You’ve probably heard some of my comments about feds,” he said. “You know, of course, I don’t mean you Forest Service guys. You do a great job.”

I said, “Sure, we know you’re not talking about us.” By that time in my career, I had met enough politicians to not be surprised by enthusiastic insincerity. And I knew he probably was not surprised by my insincere response.

Symms won the election and went on to serve four terms in the House and two in the Senate. If he was distinguished by anything, it was as an accomplished philanderer. Rumors flew about his romantic adventures in Washington. Idaho journalists were said to know about several, but, as they did in those days, they kept his personal life out of their reports. However, when Symms’ long-suffering wife sued for divorce she put his alleged extra-marital activities on the public record. The media carried the stories, and Symms declined to run for another term, perhaps thinking his behavior would not be appreciated by voters in a conservative state.

I saw Symms once more after our Boise encounter. He passed within several feet of me as he rushed down a busy hallway in the Capitol Building in Washington. I was there as part of a legislative training course. I called out, “Hello, Steve.”

He responded with a big wave, and a hearty, “Well hi, great to see you,” as he continued on his way. He made it sound as though he remembered me well. I didn’t believe it for a minute.

So what does all that prove? Fraternity brothers, especially those from other chapters, certainly are not equivalent to birth brothers. However, they have one thing in common. Whether you respect them, admire them, choose to ignore them, or dislike them and their activities, they are yours forever.