Oct 29, 2003

Last week, I noticed the calendar on the wall of my office was a bit out of date. It turns out that it is no longer June. Imagine that. While I took it down to change the featured NASCAR driver of the month, I mused that this is so like me. The passage of time always seems to outpace my ability to update it. My calendars do more than track the day of the week. They mark the date of my last distraction.

Distraction is something which I’m intimately familiar. Games collect dust on the shelf and new television shows fill up my TIVO. Books lie unread and my monthly subscriptions form piles of unfinished business. And yes, blog updates get few and far between. These things are supposed to be my diversions and even they get lost in the shuffle.

Work has certainly been knocking around my schedule a bit lately and I suppose I’m feeling it a bit. There is always something to do around the house. A little of this and a lot of that are always left for tomorrow, or next week, or next month. We’ve spent the weekends running and the weekdays recovering.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened in June but, given that the calendar is at work, I’m guessing my job had something to do with it. June is as good a month as any to mark when my recent bout of distractions began. Fortunately, my next break is less than a month away — anniversary here I come. I’m guessing I’ll like November’s NASCAR driver better anyway.

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Bugging Me

Sep 9, 2003

This morning the wife found a bug in her bowl of cereal. The creepy little thing was squirming for breath in a sea of milk. I had just finished a bowl of that same cereal when she made the discovery. It was bug free, I think.

She called the company responsible to explain her little crawling problem and they promised to send us some free coupons. You could almost hear the wife’s stomach turn as the company representative queried her about the bug’s shape and color. I tried to console her. At least she didn’t find half a bug.

My fantasy football team notched their first win last night. As I find out every year, fantasy football does wierd things to your football watching experience. You may vote for a team or player you hate. You might be timid about the success of a team you love. A meaningless game suddenly becomes a fascinating matchup.

Last night, both my opponent and I had a stake in the Philly Tampa game. Donovan McNabb would throw for his team. I started Philadephia’s defense and Tampa Bay’s kicker. My opponent wanted to see Donovan McNabb flash some skills. I wanted to see a battle of field goals. Philly 0, Tampa 3 would make me very happy. The final score – Philly 0, Tampa 17 – was good enough. Mr. McNabb, a very good quarterback, had a very bad day. That’s too bad. I like him as a player. I just don’t like it when he plays against my team, fantasy or otherwise.

The wife and I went shopping for a car seat yesterday night. It only took us three stores to find one we liked. She was focused on features and safety. I was determined that it would match the truck. Cambell didn’t seem to care. He fell asleep as the sun set. One of us has our priorities mixed up. Don’t worry. I’ll straighten her out.

The new seat feels like a graduation of sorts for the little guy. Daddy, I can stand up on my own. I’m this close to crawling and I’m ready to amaze you next week with a host of new activities. I think it’s time for a big boy seat.

I hear ya boy. Just don’t be in too much of a rush to grow up. It won’t be long before Dad is asking you to mow the lawn and make your own breakfast. Bug free, of course.

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About Face

Sep 5, 2003

I attended my final physical therapy appointment last Wednesday. I’m not entirely cured of my Bell’s Palsy but I’m close. A while ago, my doctor told me that no one would be able to tell I was sick by Labor Day. That prediction turned out to be true.

Some nagging effects remain but they are constrained to small things. I’m not worried about blinking. I’m focused on getting my bottom lip up to speed. I no longer slur my speech. My toothy smile only has only a little bit to go. Generally, it is now hard to notice. Unless I strain to show folks my problem, they’d likely never know there was one. For that, I’m extremely grateful.

I’m not grateful, however, that I have not been given a free pass with regard to the silly exercises I do day in and day out. I’ve promised to continue my funny faces for another month. It will be a long, face-tortured month.

It’s not that I hate them that intensely. This past weekend, while vacationing with some good friends, they were actually a lot of fun. I wasn’t juiced with the prospect of performing my fanciful art in front of an audience but I could understand their curiosity. So, we made a deal: they could watch but they must also participate. Imagine a group of folks making silly faces at each other. Add alcohol and stir. A daily chore turned out to be a fun evening activity.

I have an appointment with the neurologist next week. I fear that I’ll be stuck in the face with buzzing needles again but I’m still encouraged. This visit would fall under the heading of follow-up, a title that I very much welcome.

I wanted to note how thankful I am to my physical therapist, who took time out of her busy schedule to help out someone with really crappy health insurance. Bell’s Palsy is a funny affliction, where healing occurs at a slow pace, normally without any treatment whatsoever. Because of that, I’m unsure of exactly how much physical therapy has helped. However, I’m convinced that I spoke clearly sooner because of the effort. I’m convinced that my eating habits returned to normal earlier because of her help. I’m sure that the healing process was accelerated. For that, there’s a lot of thanks to go around.

In fact, I plan to make sure some flowers go her way this coming week. The wife will likely be the delivery girl. I’ve already wrote the note I intend to include. I hope it brightens her day.

Thanks for your time and patience. You, quite literally, put a smile on my face.
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Aug 8, 2003

I don’t normally stick needles in my face. Neither do I shock it with electricity with any kind of frequency. Somehow, however, I was able to fit both into my schedule this week.

On Wednesday, I took an early morning trip to Mercy Hospital for a little more physical therapy. The session went pretty much like I expected. I performed my assigned exercises for the therapist and was critiqued on my progress. The good news: I’ve improved. I may not be able to smile but at least I can raise the corner of my mouth a small amount. The bad news: I ended up with more homework. I have a whole new set of exercises to keep me occupied in front of the mirror.

And what exciting exercises they are. In addition to some practice with puckering and smiling, my old exercises consisted of tasks like filling my cheeks with air and saying words that begin with the letter b, like bow. My new activities are even more comical. One new speech exercise has me pin my tongue to the left side of my mouth and recite words such as grandmother. Another makes me raise my upper lip and say words such as friendly or far. Glancing at the list of terms, I quipped that I was glad that the word frankfurter was skipped. That little “problem” was quickly rectified.

After physical therapy, I moved up my appointment with the neurologist. I was in the building. I might as well kill two birds with one stone. It was in the examining room of the neurologist where words like “grounding” made their first appearance. “I’m going to have to give him a needle”, the doctor told my wife. I had no clue whatsoever that it would be in my face.

To be truthful, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The needles themselves were much like acupuncture (which, technically, I’ve only seen on TV) in that they literally rested in my face for a short time. An attached wire made it look as if the doctor were testing a human-sized (and Ken-shaped) battery. The part of my tests where I was shocked by policeman-like electrical do-hickey (I believe that is the technical term) was closer to that tingling feeling you get from laying your tongue on a 9-volt battery than sticking you finger into an electrical outlet (again, something I’ve only seen on TV). Any fear or loathing I had about the session is quite related to having someone jam needles into my face and that’s something I never want to get entirely comfortable with.

The real good news of the week was my prognosis. The doctor said that by Labor Day no one should really notice my facial paralysis. By October 1st, I should be all better. Both dates are now marked in bold on my calendar.

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Subject Paralysis

Aug 1, 2003

I’m doing ok. I’m doing alright. I’m glad to hear that your friend recovered nicely. No, I’m not better yet. I still can’t raise an eyebrow. I still can’t smile.

Many well wishes have come my way in the last two weeks as both friends and family hear about the Bell’s Palsy which afflicts me. I appreciate them. I really do. It’s nice to be loved. It’s nice to see that people care. I truly don’t deserve the kind words I’ve received.

That said, it certainly seems like I’m stuck in a rut. I spend a lot of time discussing both my mug and the mugs of others. I understand the curiousity. It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to explain. Just what does a person look like who can’t control one side of their face? You can tell when people really look at you.

It may or may not help that my contact with the outside world in the last two weeks has been limited. I haven’t been spending time crossing things off my schedule but I haven’t been making plans either. Church softball, my normal Sunday excursion, is a no, no. My partially blinking eye makes it difficult and I’d rather not risk any injury (look there’s a fly ball). Other events, particularly ones that involve eating, are not things I’m anxious to set up.

I’ll make two exceptions to that this weekend, one on both sides of the fence. I’ve decided to skip the annual work picnic. I’d like to go. I’d love to show off my quickly growing boy. I’m not, however, incredibly comfortable with socializing or community eating right now. Doing the two in concert would be torture to both sides of my face. You could call it avoidance. You can worry about symptoms of depression if you really want. I’m taking a different view. It just doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to me. Besides, it looks like it will rain. I won’t miss it next year.

On the other hand, the wife and I are heading out to dinner and movie so I’m not sworn off the entire world quite yet. We are going to make another run at seeing Finding Nemo, although American Wedding has a good opportunity to snag our discretionary dollars as well. Hopefully we’ll eat some place that serves soft foods.

For those who don’t know, I started physical therapy this week. The therapy itself consists of both facial and oral exercises. I make wierd faces at the mirror and contort my face while repeating certain words. The faces are all the more strange when you take into account that only only my right side has any interest in participating. They do seem to help. The left side can feel odd, wormy, or tight in the hours afterwards. Any feeling over there is a good thing.

The whole idea of physical therapy is to accelerate the recovery process. Bell’s Palsy supposedly just comes back on its own. It comes back slowly, though. I’m hoping those frustrating hours in front of the mirror pay off. If nothing else, I’m learning to control the right side a lot better. Someday, I’ll be able to fake it on both sides.

For all those who have called, emailed, sent me cards, visited, or left an encouraging comment, thanks. I’m making it through this. Sometimes it is hard to forget, though. My Bell’s Palsy is something I cannot escape. You could say that it’s written all over my face.

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I’m feeling a little bit better now. No, I still can’t control the left side of my face. This reality is still very much in my thoughts. I’m just tired of bitching. I’m not done with bitching, mind you. I’m just tired of doing so — for now.

Part of the reason has to do with acceptance. After a while, everyone, including me, stops listening. Part of it has to do with life. I’ve heard it goes on.

It’s certainly going on for my young son. I’ve mentioned his spurts of rapid growth before. The last couple of weeks qualify as a growth spurt and a half.

He sitting up now, although not entirely by himself. He teeters and totters. Anxious parents await the inevitable topple. A shoulder hold is an opportunity to stand on my lap. He rolls both back and forth, combining the two as a new mode of transportation, which the wife has aptly named log rolling. He’s mobile, although still quite slow.

His surroundings are suddenly filled with objects of fascination. Nearby objects are no longer decoration. They are food. The various trinkets that border his crib are given the investigative treatment. Silverware must be pushed to the center of the dinner table. Baby proofing is no longer a future concern. It is a present one.

The transformation from tiny baby to mobile infant is both mesmerizing and startling in its sheer speed — discovery at a wicked pace. Today, he sprinkles my wife’s ears with “mommamamamom”. Tomorrow, I’ll be attending his college graduation.

While I may miss the days when feeding was as simple as a well placed bottle, I’m thrilled to watch him sieze the nipple and discern its use for himself. It’s a good reminder that I’m not totally in control. It’s also a good reminder that these days there’s little time to stop and smell the roses — no matter how good, or bad, their scent. There’s just so much else to do.

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Too Sad to Frown

Jul 25, 2003

I’ve been pretty down this week. Actually, I’ve been a lot down. The Bell’s Palsy that’s affecting the left side of my face is bothering me, both physically and emotionally.

Physically, everything seems harder. Everything is a relative term, of course. Walking certainly isn’t more difficult. Neither is manipulating a fork and a knife. The easy things you take for granted. You don’t miss them unless they are broken. A lot seems broken right about now.

Unmoving lips result in slurred speech. I’ve found myself actually holding my mouth with my hand to help correct this. Eating is a challenge. My lips just won’t get the hell out the way of my teeth, much less serve as a good gatekeeper. Once it’s in, you want it to stay in, a problem that rears its head when drinking too fast.

An partially blinking eye means those long nights in front of the computer screen may become more a thing of the past. Eye drops are an hourly reminder of my problem. The last thing I need is something else to go wrong.

Emotionally, it’s a burden. There are lots of unknowns. How long will this last? Will I ever recover? Questions roam around in my brain like flies in a jar, never escaping, sometimes pausing from the exhaustion of a battered skull.

I’ve become concerned about my appearance but not in the way you expect. I don’t know if I’ve ever really cared how people see me. I’ve always been personally confident. I generally care little about you think. That said, an unresponsive face has made that confidence tumble. I think less of myself. That bothers me much more than any glare from another could.

Embarrassment has become an unwelcome neighbor, frustration a looming giant. It’s all the little things that bug me. Addition in small increments is still addition after all.

My treatment has been laced with sorrow. My prognosis is hope. Still what I really want to do is frown for a while — and do it with gusto.

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Jul 22, 2003

My poor body is falling apart at the seams. One sickness takes hold ands opens the gate for others. I’ve been to the doctor’s office three times in the past seven days and that doesn’t count the two after hour phone calls I’ve had to make. I’ll get to make it four of nine when I return to see the doctor on Thursday. I’m officially sick of being sick.

It all started last Tuesday when I felt a pain in my left ear. My symptoms persisted into Wednesday. The doctor suggested that I come in for a quick check up and make sure everything is allright. You don’t want to mess with a possible ear infection.

So I did. Apparently there was nothing interesting in there. I was sent home with no medication, except for instructions to apply Selson Blue to an odd loss of pigment to my right thumb and forefinger – a totally unrelated problem.

On Saturday I awoke with a pretty red balloon on the side of my head. My left ear no longer matched my right one in terms of girth. The left side of my face had swelled up. Something was wrong. I got on the phone. Antibiotics were on the menu. Ibuprofen would help with the swelling.

Monday would find me in the doctor’s office again. I had not seen marked improvement and someone in a white coat needed to look at the little megaphone on the side of my head. Sure enough, I had an ear infection. It looks like this one started on the outside and worked its way in. The doctor prescribed ear drops and a liquid to fight a weird, taste bud altering feeling I had in my tongue.

Monday evening gave me something more frightening to worry about. I was losing some control of the left side of my face. The effect was much like an overdose of novocaine. The right side smiles and the left side gives it only a half-hearted try. A grimace makes me look much more like Two-Face than I’d like to admit. I jumped back on the phone.

My third visit to the doctor’s office both confirmed my fears and brought some relief. I have a form of Bell’s palsy, a problem with the 7th cranial nerve in the face. The good news is that it is very likely related to my infected ear, meaning that when my ear is healed it will likely go away.

The idea of having a palsy, or paralysis, is rather frightening. It’s such a strange sensation. You feel like your driving a car that drifts to the right. There is a disconnect between where you hold the wheel and where the car actually goes. I’ll be happy when I can correct the steering.

This bombardment of sickness has me down a bit. It has caught a normally healthy guy off balance. Most of my bottles have 10 days written on them. I can’t wait until I can finish off the drug cocktail the doctors have prepared for me. In the meantime, I’ll think happy thoughts like balloons and clowns. You know, the ones with a full smile.

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The Wootton Men

A reunion of sorts was scheduled for Sunday. For one day, the busy schedules and distances that separate the Wootton men were put aside. We were men. We were alone. No women were allowed.

That’s right. Our women let us out without supervision. We were free for an independent day of manly bonding. The question of what exactly we would do with our time was still very much up in the air when my father’s three boys pulled up at his house.

Many years ago the old ping pong table in the basement was an object of fascination for me. My brothers were the masters, holding tournaments of will and precision. I was the enthusiastic little kid, just aching for someone to chase my mistakes into the dark corners of our basement.

It seems that times have changed a bit. The table was new, despite the fact that some miscellaneous objects it supported attested to its lack of use. I’ve been practicing a bit; I spent about a year of lunches knocking around a little orange ball. Their skills, however, have been left unused since college. I think I gave them enough of a challenge to work the rust off.

The great thing about the table tennis we played is that it gave us a chance to catch up while doing something that felt so natural. We could have been back at the old house chewing the fat for all I knew or cared. It also gave the sun time to warm up for our eventual destination: Gettysburg.

Gettysburg is a place where I spent many a day during my youth. We used to camp nearby. We lived a mere 15 minutes away. The fact that my father was once a tour bus driver in Gettysburg meant we always had a built in guide. I remember the fudge at the corner shop. I remember my father helping me up the walk-up towers as my fear of heights got hold of me. I remember the following the tape tour around the battlefield.

Not much has changed. The fudge is still wonderfully good. My knees still buckle when I get four stories above the earth. The tape is now a CD but sounds much like before.

We turned the two hour tour into a four hour tour. The battlefield was our playground for a bit. We climbed towers, hiked Big Round Top, and listened in on the guides meant for the official tour buses. It was great fun.

We then settled down for dinner in the cozy basement tavern of the Dobbin House. A storm rolled by and we barely noticed. The candlelight of the basement meant a temporary loss of power only added to the ambiance. I couldn’t help but get a bit reflective.

The four gentlemen sitting at the dinner table are now family men. The kids now have kids. Even the baby of the family – me – has a baby of his own at home.

It’s all a little surreal. It’s as if time rushed forward to this point. One day we were tackling each other in the backyard. The next day we were paying taxes and mowing our own lawns.

The trip home proved adventurous. The passing storm had been severe. Debris littered the roadway and we passed one tree blocking half of the roadway before coming to rest by a downed tree and a police car. I started to put the truck in reverse but changed my mind. Surely, there is something we could do about this. The four of hopped out of the car and made our way through the rain to the downed tree. Heave ho, guys. The tree didn’t stop us but the police officer did. Help in the form of a chainsaw was on the way. We were only interfering. We turned the truck around and found another way to my father’s house.

I have to say I won’t forget the day for a while (which is a good thing considering how long I took to write about it). I was unaware how easy it was to revisit my childhood. Sometimes the memories lie just a table tennis game away. The end of our day, which found four men working together to clear a path home, seemed just right. In a way, that’s exactly what we did.

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Busy Weekend

Jul 9, 2003

Every once and a while, I come to my blog page and notice an absence of content. This is particularly true in the beginning of the month. My little calendar announces this absence in a fairly unspectacular fashion. The little 1 is blue. Everything else is rather lacking in color.

In this case, it is the fault of a very busy weekend. I spent very little time at home during this week’s bookend days. I’ve spent the days between now and then in a mode that can only be termed recovery. I’m almost done with that now. I could be wrong, however.

I hope to get some details of this weekend up soon. The events are notable – if only to me – and should provide me with some easy content, content that straddles the diary line a little too closely for my manly tastes.

In the meantime, here’s my favorite phrase of the month, courtesy of James Lileks.

… like bobbing for dog turds in a chum bucket.

Yum. Stew on that one for a while.

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