Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night, just so I could be reminded than Bono doesn’t know how to count to four in Spanish.

I’m in a place called Vertigo.

In the beginning, on Tuesday evening, we went to see Noel Gallagher (I’m pretty sure Noel couldn’t count in Spanish unless he learned the expletives first) down at the Majestic. Pretty good show, but as we were driving home, I felt a little dizzy. As I was driving, I decided mentioning this would not be a good idea.

Had this been a concert in my college days, I would have suspected various fumes in the concert hall, but you can’t smoke anymore and I didn’t have my usual drink, so that wasn’t it.

Had dinner, felt a bit better, made it home, everything seemed to have passed.

Murphy woke me up just before six to visit the yard, and I couldn’t walk straight. I was staggering around the bedroom, and I needed to find something to hold onto just to walk a straight line.

Here’s the definition of being old: my first thought was not, “I’m walking like a drunk.” My thought was, “This is like being on a cruise ship in rough seas.”

On the bright side, we learned on a ship in rough seas, the rule is, “One hand for you, one hand for the ship.” That helped getting around – even if we don’t have handrails all over the house. (Note to self: Handrails around the house.)

An hour later, Murphy woke me up again, and I was staggering again. Perhaps worse.

At this point, I was a bit freaked out. I didn’t have chest pains, so it probably wasn’t a heart attack. I could yell at Murphy without slurring my speech, so it probably wasn’t a stroke, unless yelling at the dogs is a learned reflex. What else is there?

After I woke up and explained to Virginia what was going on, she diagnosed the flu. This is because I religiously refuse to get a flu shot, so she is desperately hoping I will learn my lesson. Not by dying from flu (probably), but suffering a bit. OK, a lot. So, I could break a leg during flu season, and she would look at the protruding bone, and say, “See? Flu.”

Off to our family doctor. Of course, my doctor was out of town this week, so off to his Nurse Practitioner. We sat in the waiting room for a bit, while Virginia did my annual paperwork, which is six pages of crap without a “no changes” option. Rachael Ray was on the TV, making some eggplant dish, and it sounded like a compound butter or something. I was having trouble concentrating, actually. It’s just the third time she said “eggplant” in two minutes, I felt a twinge in the belly. I like eggplant, but the word has always disturbed me.

So, after another “eggplant”, she had a byproduct from the recipe you could “slather on toast.”

Slather.

That’s the evacuation word!

So, I puked into a handy trash can. Of course, I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, so it wasn’t very productive, but apparently, some of my beer belly is actually phlegm.

Note for the future: if the service at the doctor’s office seems particularly slow, puke into a trash can. I was taken into an exam room almost immediately.

I like the Nurse Practitioner. She did a lot of checks in a very short time, was one of the first people to admit she couldn’t get test results as quickly as she would like, but she wanted tests to prove her non-diagnosis was correct.

She wanted tests, but knew she couldn’t get results as quickly as … the Emergency Room.

That’s where I had thought about going in the first place, so next time, I’ll eliminate the middle man.

I actually thought the Nurse Practitioner did a fab job, I just don’t like “probably nothing”, “just in case” and “life and death” in the same paragraph.

She wanted the tests to prove I wasn’t having the stroke she was pretty sure I wasn’t having.

Just working out the logic in that sentence will make some people start staggering.

Virginia asked if it could be the flu, with just a bit too much relish in her voice, and was told there was no possible way it was the flu. Ha!

Off to the ER. Luckily, it’s only one building over from my doctor’s office – but still the longest wheel-chair ride I’ve been pushed on.

I’m pretty sure I heard whimpering from behind me on the uphill parts of the ride.

The ER did some early checks just to make me think everything was progressing because this was an emergency, and then they sent me to the waiting room to remind me I’m not really that important. Or dying (hopefully.)

After the mandatory wait period (and a nap in the waiting room), I was taken back to a room. We had to wait for Virginia to come back from the vending machines before we went back. I wonder if she had gone for snacks earlier, the wait would have been shorter.

First, the mandatory question list, many of which were in the doctor’s list and the ER check-in list.

Then, an EKG – just like the one I’d had in the doctor’s office two hours before. Next, we wait for results.

At this point, I needed a potty break, so one of the nurses helped me stagger down the hall and back.

Then, off for a CAT scan. I would have mentioned I had three dog scans before I left the house, but I was too tired.

I always wonder about tests where the administrators all have to leave the room, and they’re pointing something at your head, or rolling your head in a tube.

Still, CAT scans are very pleasant compared to an MRI. Well, except for the contrast dye they put through an IV, so you feel like you wet your pants.

So, you wait for the CAT scan to get scheduled, then wait to get it done, and then you wait for the results.

After the results came back negative for a stroke, I figured I was ready to go home. The last time I was dizzy with a good CAT scan, I was freed.

Unfortunately, I needed another potty break. This time, the nurse just pointed me down the hall, but I knew where it was, so that was fine. Hands on the wall all the way down.

However, while staggering back to my room, I passed the nurses’ station where the doctor was talking to someone. She saw my graceful ballet steps, and decided she really wanted an MRI, after all.

Ugh.

So, time to sit and wait for scheduling again.

In the meantime, I learned an interesting side effect if I sat up too quickly.

I puked again.

This time, there were puke bags available, so I didn’t need to use the trash can. However, the official hospital puke bags have measurements on the side, so while you’re puking, the patient in you is thinking, “Please stop! This is gross!” and the competitor in you is thinking, “Come on! You can do 500ml easy!”

After that incident, I was given anti-nausea drugs. Afterwards? Really?

Off to the MRI, my least-favorite test of all, and that includes my eighth-grade Spanish final.

For those who have never had the pleasure, an MRI is a large tube that you are slid into so they can take photos or sound images or police sketches – I’m not really sure what comes out, except it always takes a half-hour and you’re strapped down, you can’t move and you have a panic button. Any time you’re given a panic button, it means it is so bad, somebody needed one, and it wasn’t installed yet. I assume that person died of fright. Lovely.

The MRI guys all have the same soothing speech: “This is the panic button. Press it, and I’ll get you right out. Even if you’re just a couple of minutes from the end. Of course, if you come out early … we have to start from the beginning.” So, basically, your one way out is a really bad option. Fun.

They have headphones with music to drown out the noise of the machine. The headphones are the equivalent of your wife whispering to you as the Blue Angels fly over your head. Three feet over your head. And your wife is in the next county.

The good thing about the music is you spend so much time trying to figure out what bloody song is playing, that the time does pass rather quickly.

I assume they don’t turn the music up since loud noises can hurt your ears. Wait.

This was my third MRI. My first was on my knee, and I didn’t understand my wife’s fear and hatred of them – but then I realized I had gone in feet first. My second was the last time I was having dizzy spells, and that was quite different, as in worse, but is was an OpenMRI (code for “chubby or claustrophobic patients”), and it was delayed a while because the patient before me was having panic attacks. Maybe they didn’t explain about the panic button.

This was an old-school MRI – and when I was wheeled into the room, I noticed a couple of braces in the machine. Hmm.

Virginia had asked if they had an OpenMRI, and was told “No”, but was assured I would fit. She was talking about the claustrophobic group – the chubby group is just a bonus.

So, I lay back on the platform, and was asked if I wanted to listen to music. Sure. On go the headphones.

Warm blanket? Yes, please.

Pillow under my knees? Yes, please.

I have learned that if someone in a hospital offers you something, just accept it. There’s a reason it’s an option.

Why is he being so nice?

Ah, the braces.

So, the operator started putting the head cage in place. “Clarice?”

So, let me get this straight. You’re putting me in a tube for a half-hour where I can’t move, you’ve wrapped in a blanket like an Irish burrito and now you’re going to lock my head down. Where is this panic button of which you spoke?

Placing the cage was one thing. Screwing it down was just excessive. The OpenMRI people just took my word when I said I wouldn’t run. They didn’t screw my head down.

I survived by trying to calculate how far (and fast) Virginia would have run when she saw the cage coming down.

The music starts. “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Really? The first line is:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Interesting way to start a half-hour sliding around in a loud tube.

Plus, in the middle of it, I had contrast dye pushed down my IV. Lovely. At least it was just a warm sensation, not like the CAT scan “wet your pants” dye.

I had asked for Classic Rock. This was a bad choice. Last time, I asked for Adele, not because I particularly love Adele, but because she has a lot of five minute songs, so it was easy to predict how far along I was.

Eventually, the rack slid me out. I didn’t believe it at first, since there were other times where it would back out slightly and then plunge me further into the tube. I could see out the other end (as promised), once I learned to squint around the cage.

Mainly, I kept my eyes shut. A non-metallic rosary would have been appreciated.

Still, I slid out, my head was freed, and I was told they had “gotten a lot of good pictures.” Well, that’s good, especially if that means I don’t have to start over.

Back to my room, where I realized I had forgotten my glasses and seasick patch. They took the patch off, since it has aluminum in it, and it could “heat up” in an MRI.

When they mentioned the tiny circular patch could “heat up”, I understood why they had asked if I had a penile implant. Ouch.

After the missing items were recovered, Virginia said I was being admitted.

So, family doctor to ER to hospital. A medical double-play.

Now, I’m waiting for results and a new room assignment.

The MRI results? No stroke.

In the hospital room, I had yet another questionnaire to complete. So, this time, when asked if I had any chronic pain, I just pointed at Virginia and asked, “Besides her?” The nurse laughed so hard, I got a three-minute break. (I can’t believe I’m the first husband to say that. It’s such a great setup line.)

It was a nice room, but I now had a PulseOx monitor on one hand, and an IV in the other arm. So, potty breaks require assistance just to unplug everything.

The nursing staff was great. They got my nighttime drugs, got me ice chips, got me pretty much anything I needed. It may have helped that I was in a staging room and at that point, I was the only patient in the area.

I even got a CPAP so Virginia didn’t have to retrieve one from home. A CPAP is great, not only because it keeps me alive, but because it is an obvious signal (the mask) that you’re trying to sleep. It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get poked when you get poked, but still.

At this point, Virginia went home to tend to the dogs and get some sleep.

(Of course, when she stayed in the hospital overnight after her shoulder surgery, I went to walk the dogs, and went back to stay with her. She just stayed home. I’m a giver. It’s what I do.)

I woke up at one point, rolled over, and ten minutes later, alarms went off. Loud alarms. Why is it illegal to sleep on my left side? Apparently, I had slept on my IV and cut off the flow. Oops. Right side sleeping only.

I slept well, considering, until someone came in to draw blood.

Back to sleep, until someone else needed more blood.

Don’t they have blood in a hospital? Why do they need so much of mine?

I finally gave up on sleep about 7am, which was good, since the day nurse came in to check on me and introduce herself.

She showed me the menu for breakfast. The diabetic menu. I didn’t know I was diabetic, but I was starving. The omelet was very good. The sausage sucked. The toast was one whole slice, because, diabetes. The apple slices had more carbs than anything, because, tasty. The iced tea was in the same size cup my dentist uses when he asks me to rinse.

Still, very tasty, given it was my first food in 30-something hours.

Virginia arrived in time for physical therapy.

I changed clothes. This was the longest either of us had been in a hospital without wearing a gown.

I guess “Well, he’s just here for tests”, followed by “Well, he’s just being observed” means no gown required. Maybe they were selling all my blood to buy more gowns, and the new supplies hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe I have cooties, but it wasn’t on my chart.

With the physical therapist, I got to answer more questions and I got to walk with a belt around me, held by the therapist. Not awkward at all. She said I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.

With the occupational therapist, I got to hang my head over the side of the bed so she could move my head around and see if she could determine where the issue was. (I think she was secretly disappointed I didn’t puke, since she had warned about it.)

The fun part of the occupational therapy session was the explanation of the condition I might have – BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.)

Here’s the short version, and this is from memory, but I’m not making this up: there are three concentric circles in the inner ear which have hairs in them (probably cilia, but who’s counting?) On the hairs are crystals. The hairs move as you do, and the crystals help keep you in balance. I was thinking “cheap gyroscope.”

To hear someone with a beautiful Southern lilt say, “If the crystals fall off the hairs, due to injury or accident, you will have balance issues, and that’s vertigo.”

Crystals falling off hairs?

Is this like having your chakras out of alignment?

Is this just bullshit because I can’t handle the truth?

Existential thought, which meant I missed some of her lecture:

How drunk was our Creator?

“Let’s see. We could just have a small bone balancing on another one, or We could have a bunch of hairs in a circle of goo with crystals balancing on them in both ears, so you have to check two places.”

“Oh, and if one of the crystals falls, you can turn the patient’s head from side to side and see if his eyes start beading.”

Even Virginia could see my eyes whipping around.

After she left, we had lunch. The person on the phone has hearing problems because my turkey was tuna salad. She probably has bad crystals or something.

So, I’m in a place called Vertigo.

I’m home now. I never wore a gown. I’m learning to stop standing up quickly.

I’m trying to rebalance my crystals.

Next week, I see my doctor, and remind him the interesting stuff always happens when he’s out of town. Then, I will ask him for a crystal referral.

Kick ‘em when they’re down

A job search is a very painful process when you’re an old, white guy who has spent the last 19 years inside the same company (especially when the company is often an industry punching bag.) So, I should be used to rejection letters by now. I usually don’t mind rejection letters that much, since at least it’s closure, and it’s a chance to think, “I didn’t want to work there, anyway.” With today’s automated application systems, much of the time, your application and resume just go into the bit bucket and you never hear anything at all.

However, some rejection letters are really unnecessarily detailed. Like today’s.

I got an email from a corporate recruiter last week, thanking me for my application (I actually thought I was a reasonable fit for the job), and asking me for some times for us to discuss the position. (I was lucky I saw it, since it was in my spam folder, but I check my spam all the time because I can’t afford to lose a lead.)

It got my hopes up. I should know better by now, but hope spring eternal.

So, I replied, and heard nothing. It’s not a mega corporation, so I thought, “His mail went in my spam folder, maybe mine went in his.” So, I replied again.

This morning, I got a reply.

I reviewed your resume with the manager and compare to the job description and requirements we decided to not move forward.  This system email was sent in error.

Ouch.

So, rejected before the screening call. A new low.

I’m not really sure why this hurt more than the others. I’ve gone through three levels of interviews in before getting rejected twice, but this one really hurts.

I think it’s the implicit “we were wasting our time reviewing your resume.” After all, the erroneous system email was the bright, cheery note that asked me for available times to chat.

So, their applicant system failed twice. First, it told them they might give a shit about me, and then it told me they might actually give a shit about me.

They don’t give a shit about me.

For any other recruiters who may be reviewing my resume, I really don’t need two reasons why I was rejected for your company. Just one is plenty, and is one more than the apparent industry standard of zero. Also, if your system is sending emails in error, an apology would be nice. You’ve wasted my time now.

I sent a “thank you for letting me know” note, but I really wanted to say, “If you would like someone to come review your recruiting system to determine why it’s sending emails to obviously unqualified candidates, please just let me know.”

Also, I wanted to say, “If your system email is a bright, cheery, personalized email from your internal recruiter, but the core system can’t accurately match candidates to positions, you’re customizing the wrong part of the system.”

The search continues.

Mom-in-law 1, Instant Pot 0

My mother-in-law defeated my Instant Pot from the Great Beyond last night. She’s been gone almost ten years, but I’ve always been pretty sure she’s still watching us, and now I have proof.

My wife still has her right arm immobilized, so I’m still the chef of the house. Yesterday afternoon, the patient requested chili, so I got some ground beef from the freezer, and a couple hours later, when I started assembling ingredients, I discovered that was pretty much the only chili ingredient I had. Oops.

Plan B was goulash, but we were also missing ingredients for that.

My goal while I’m running the kitchen is to prove people can eat before 8pm and survive, so this was not looking good.

Finally, my wife said, “Make sauce.”

This is where my Mom-in-law comes in.

“Sauce” when I was growing up came in a jar, and it was called spaghetti sauce. My in-laws are New York Italians and sauce is a not in a jar. It is in a number of cans and cloves and shakers that have their contents combined in a large stockpot. It takes all day to make. All damn day. Also, it’s not “spaghetti sauce” because it’s not just for spaghetti – you use the same sauce for all kinds of pasta, on entrees, on bread for a snack, as a substitute for plasma in blood transfusions…

As an aside, for some people from the frozen North, sauce is called “gravy.” I grew up in Texas, where there is cream gravy for chicken-fried steak, enchilada gravy for enchiladas and brown gravy for everything else.

My mom-in-law lived with us for six years before she passed away, and the most upset she ever got was when Rachael Ray made sauce as part of a thirty-minute meal, adding beef stock to get that “all-day flavor”. She was more upset about half-hour sauce than she was the day one of the dogs peed on her walker. Twice. Pee? Slightly Annoyed. Sauce in a half-hour? Ballistic.

So, making sauce “quickly” put me on shaky ground, but I figured, I’m Irish, she should expect me not to know better, and it’s not like she’s haunting us or anything.

For the record, my mom-in-law’s sauce must cook for at least four hours, or it tastes “raw.” To me, sauce tastes like tomato and uncooked sauce also tastes like tomato, but I learned early on to not argue with her about cooking.

So, I was going to make sauce quickly (which is different than “quick sauce”), and my Instant Pot had never let me down in the two times I had used it. Plus, I was cooking for an invalid.

So, first step, brown the garlic. Then, brown the ground beef. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir it all up. Seal the pot.

Wait for the pot to come up to pressure, wait a half-hour, make some pasta, dinner is served.

“Beep!”

I had never heard a “beep” that just sounded unhappy.

The display said, “Burn.”

This is apparently a well-known issue, “the infamous Burn message.”

It means something is sticking to the bottom of the inner pot. (Thanks, Google.)

So, I opened the pot, stirred everything around, resealed and started again.

“Beep.” Burn.

Uh, Google?

So, something may be stuck. Check. There may not be enough “thin” liquid in the pot. Don’t stir in “heavy” liquids (like tomato paste.) Oops.

This was also when my wife mentioned she usually adds a can of water (28oz!) to her sauce. Hmm.. Water would be a very thin liquid. That would have been a helpful reminder a half-hour ago.

Let’s try this again. Scrape the bottom, add the water (note how close we are to the Maximum Fill line), stir all the heavy stuff to the top (consider that logic), seal and pray.

“Beep.” Burn.

I really should have learned to say, “Dammit” in Italian.

I admitted defeat. I moved all the raw sauce into a stockpot on the stove. Four hours later (after we had BBQ delivered), dinner was ready. For tomorrow.

So, “Burn” is apparently just short for “You will burn in Hell for trying to make sauce quickly.

I miss my mom-in-law. I might have had a bruise today, but she would have stopped the madness much sooner.

In the Hospital

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night. Not for me, for my wife.

She had shoulder surgery yesterday. The surgery went well, but she has a difficult time coming out of anesthesia. She told her doctor, she told her anesthesiologist, she told the nurses, she told the mailman (he was concerned), but it doesn’t matter. When she can’t wake up, people are amazed – because they are never the people she’s told.

In their defense, when a normal person, say me, has any day surgery that ends at 3:30pm, I will be coherent at 4:00pm, and out the door by 4:30pm – at the latest.

She will be out of surgery at 3:30pm, cranky by 4:30pm and barely awake at 7pm, assuming a good tailwind.

Here’s the issue: with more and more day surgery “hospitals”, they really want you out by six because they’re closing for the evening.

To get her out by six, surgery should have started last Tuesday.

So, her shoulder surgery started at 3pm, she was admitted to the hospital by 7pm and at 9pm, she was ordering Dominos because the cafeteria was closed. (Yes, they deliver to the hospital.)

I’m waiting to see the diagnosis for her admittance because I think it will be “couldn’t wake up.” Usually, “couldn’t wake up” in a hospital means people with paddles yelling “Clear!” and pressing on your chest and blowing in your mouth.

In this case, it was a nurse who had a bus to catch, and said, “If you can’t get up, we have to admit you.”

This is a stupid threat to make to someone who likes being waited on, and spends a lot of her spare time with various doctors.

It is a doubly stupid threat to make when the other person in the room is trying to postpone being the caregiver as long as possible.

So, she was admitted for “sleepiness”, and then she sent me off home to gather the four tons of supplies she doesn’t carry in her purse – which is probably what weakened her shoulder in the first place.

By the time I ate dinner, got home, walked the dogs, medicated the dogs, corralled the dogs, gathered up the four ton laundry list from the four corners of the house and got back to the hospital, it was after midnight, so I decided to just stay.

This gets many good husband points, and a crick in the neck.

I almost never sleep in a chair, except on Thanksgiving or in meetings, but the recliner was like a business class seat without the annoying person blocking the aisle.

I never use blankets on a plane, but when I woke up at four with my teeth chattering, I decided to make an exception.

(It turned out it was in the 60s in the room, so either the A/C works or the heat doesn’t.)

I slept like a baby, which is to say I woke up every couple of hours to pee and spent the rest of the time sobbing quietly, wrapped in my blankie.

So, it’s morning and we’re waiting for discharge papers. After that, we have to get the four tons of equipment I retrieved plus all of her new medical equipment home and unpacked.

Then, we set her up in a chair and teach the dogs, “No! Not on Mommy’s shoulder!”

Then, I’m taking a nap.

Near-Death Vacation

Nine levels of switchback. Nine Circles of Hell. Coincedence?

Entrevaux Citadel

Yesterday, I thought I was going to die, all alone, while slowly approaching a French Citadel. Isn’t that what a vacation day on a business trip is all about?

Years ago, the Spousal Unit and I went to Southern France for a couple of weeks – I was on business, she was on vacation. Part of the time, we were both on vacation. On one of those days, we took the train to from Nice to Entrevaux, a Medieval city about two hours north of Nice. (Nice is a seaside town that is at the edge of the Mediterranean on one side and the edge of the Alps on the other.) So, Entrevaux is in the mountains.

Apparently, many years ago, somebody thought it would be a good idea to fortify the town by building a citadel (which means a fort way the hell up in the sky.)

“Monsieur, some evil people are attacking the town!”

“We need a citadel. How about putting it way up there out of sight?”

So, Entrevaux has a Citadel. The Spousal Unit and I shot some photos of it last time. From the ground. However, this time, I was not with my wife, I was with two of my co-workers. Co-workers desperately afraid they will miss something interesting while on a business trip with an open weekend in France. So, we climbed up to the Citadel. On foot.

So, the rest of this is a remembrance and tirade about taking a walk. Those of you in good shape who exercise regularly can roll your eyes and stop reading now. Those who know me and are already giggling or enjoy seeing me in pain (hello, family!) can continue on.

There was a helpful French guide at the foot of the climb who sold us our tokens to enter the passageway up. Three euros. Each. She said there were seven switchbacks along the way. She lied. The brochure says there are nine, as in the number of circles of Hell.

So, David from Austin, Sakamoto-san from Tokyo and I started the ascent. In retrospect, it is very clever to charge people for the opportunity to walk straight up into the sky. If you didn’t charge them, many would get to the foot of the walkway and decide against such a foolish escapade. With a charge, the thought is – “Hey, I don’t want to waste three euros!”

This is the same theory as joining a gym. At least you can skip going to the gym more easily than skipping the walk.

Quote: “How to get to the Citadel: Go through toll-gate [Editor: with the 3 euro token] and walk straight up for about 20 minutes. Easy walk on recently restored cobbled path (difference in height: 156 meters.)” Some key points, for those who don’t easily read between the lines:

  • Straight up. This is not an exaggeration, even though the path has seven to nine switchbacks.
  • Recently restored. France is in Europe. “Recently restored” could be sometime in the 1800s.
  • 156 meters. For Americans, that’s actually 511 feet which sounds a lot higher than 156 meters. However, you don’t actually walk straight up, you walk fifty-seven miles through the “seven” switchbacks. Rappelling would be 156 meters.

    Warning Sign

    This is not information. It is a warning.

David and Sakamoto-san are a lot like me, except for age, weight and general disposition. As they sprinted up the recently restored pathway, chatting happily, I got through the first switchback just barely before my heart began to pound.

Maybe I’ll just stop here and take a couple of photos. I’m not out of breath or anything, this is just a good vantage point, since it’s so close to the ground and all.

My colleagues are now out of sight. As well as out of earshot. So, at least now I can whimper in peace.

So, I’ll guess I’ll just stop here in the middle of the second switchback to {huff, puff} take some more photos. Wow. It’s already a long way down. I’m making progress! Wow. It’s an even further way up. I’m going to die.

Continue climbing.

Horrible realization – I don’t have a pen with me. I can’t leave a note for David and Sakamoto-san to find on the way down, asking them to deliver the camera back to the Spousal Unit. I also don’t have a safety pin to attach the note to my clothes before I breathe my last. Should I be concerned I’m already planning my last minutes on earth?

I’m only concerned about the camera because the Spousal Unit lent it to me before I left and asked me to re-shoot the town of Entrevaux, especially the Citadel. Hey! That means this is all her fault! Feel slightly better. Still out of breath.

Realize if I die on this walk, the Spousal Unit will just buy a truly expensive camera with her inheritance money. If I die, I’m throwing this camera off the mountain.

Continue climbing.

Horrible realization deux – I now know why I don’t remember the climb being this difficult the last time I was in Entrevaux. It’s not just because that was eight years and probably fifty pounds ago – it’s because we didn’t actually make the climb. So much for age and experience. I would yell at David for dragging me up this mountain, but he’s already at the top, and I’m here on the third switchback, out of breath. I mean, taking photos.

Well, {choke, wheeze}, at least I’m almost half-way there.

Continue climbing.

If Lance freakin’ Armstrong goes by on his bike, I’m putting a stick through his spokes.

Well, {sneeze, cough, whimper}, at least I’m almost half-way there.

Another Fort

Hey, that fort over there looks a lot lower.

Continue climbing.

Why am I not making any progress? I wonder what David and Sakamoto-san are doing at the top? I wonder if they will pass me on their way down? I wonder if they will recover my body?

Continue climbing.

Stop to catch my breath, uh, I mean, take some photos.

Meet a couple on the way down. Try to be polite without heaving too much. “Bonjour!”

Why do they look so damn happy? Oh, maybe it’s because they’re going down. Bastards. Wonder what “bastards” is in French? If I could get a WiFi signal, I could use Google Translate. Who am I kidding? If I had a WiFi signal, I would call for help.

Continue climbing.

Well, at least I’m almost half-way there.

I wonder if David and Sakamoto-san remember me?

Hey, I made it all the way through that switchback without stopping. I wonder why my heart is beating so far out of my chest?

I think that was switchback 27. If I ever make it down to safety, I’m kicking that cute tour guide in the butt, as soon as I catch my breath. And can move my legs.

Damn. More people coming down. Look pleased to be here. “Bonjour!” Well, at least a little old couple hasn’t passed me on their way up.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Hmm. What kind of message does dying on Father’s Day send? I’d better get moving. I’ll just take a couple of photos, since this is a nice vantage point.

Dear Lord, if You could just give me one more chance and let me survive this easy climb on a restored cobbled path, I’ll build You a freakin’ chapel at the top, next to the Citadel.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Looking down at Entrevaux

If I puke, will I hit the houses?

 

Holy Crap! (Sorry, Lord.) Another couple is heading down. How many old people think climbing a mountain to see an old fort is a rational idea? Were these guys stationed here at one time?

If this freakin’ Citadel is closed for lunch when I get up there, someone’s going to die. Unless I die first.

Bonjour. That man looked pleased to be descending. I’m pretty sure the woman said “Almost” in a slight whisper as she passed me. Almost to the top? Almost dead? Almost is some French word for “look at the fat guy dying on his easy walk”? I’m pretty sure that was a pity smile she gave me.

I wonder if it’s time to start saying “Bon soir”? I’ve been climbing for about fourteen hours (twenty minutes my ass) and it was late morning when we started.

Hey, at least my pants are getting looser. It’s either the altitude or the 37 1/2 pounds of sweat I’ve produced so far. It’s a bit warm in Southern France today.

If one of these couples calls the authorities, and I get med-evac’ed off this stupid easy climb, the first thing the Spousal Unit will say when the US Embassy calls is “Was he wearing sunblock?” What is wrong with her?

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Hey! That’s David up ahead! Hmm. I don’t remember him wearing a white robe. Why is there so much light behind him? Why is he telling me to come into it? Why are my grandparents behind him?

I think I have enough time to shoot some more photos.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

As I turned another corner in the 42 switchbacks, I wondered how the French architects and builders managed to make the switchbacks at the top longer than the ones at the bottom. I wonder if the French army lost any wars just because their soldiers couldn’t make it up to the fort in time. I wonder if the enemy soldiers could just dodge any arrows shot from the Citadel since it would take a half-hour for them to reach the ground?

Man, I thought that can of olive oil the Spousal Unit requested I purchase in Nice was going to be overweight luggage. Wait until IBM has to ship my corpse home. That is going to be one big-ass internal mail envelope.

Wait! This time, it really is David. I’m at the top. That was easy.

Where’s the welcoming party? The snack bar? The oxygen tents? The snack bar?

We’re at the damn top at last, let’s take some photos. Hey! A bench! Let’s rest, then take photos.

Well, that was fun. Let’s go down. Does France have a Care-Flite service?

Going down wasn’t nearly as bad as going up, and I did take a few more photos.

Entrevaux Citadel

French soldiers were stationed here, waiting for attack. I’m waiting for a heart attack.

I even kept David and Sakamoto-san in sight most of the time. Most of the time.

I only stumbled once, but I didn’t even fall, since I’m an experienced climber now. I did, however,  have a flash of rolling down a recently renovated cobblestone path, wiping out co-workers and tourists as I fell. Bowling for Tourists.

At the bottom, we saw a young couple with two bouncing sons in tow, approaching the entrance. I thought “That hike should calm those kids down.” Then, I thought, “This is going to be the vacation those kids discuss with their therapist.”

Once safely at the bottom, I realized that I had forgotten to build the Lord His chapel. Considering what He’s overlooked in my life so far, he may let that one slide. Come to think of it, it may not be the first chapel I’ve shorted Him.

Lord, I would go back and build Your chapel as promised, but I think that climb was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Mainly, because the next time would kill me, and I know how You feel about suicide.

I’m still alive. Next time, I’m buying posst cards at the gift shop and just telling people I made the climb.

David said he signed the guest book as “IBMers from Texas and Japan”. So, the next time you’re at the top of the Citadel, you can see my name in the book. Implied.