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Good Riddance, Dead Zone

Another Dead Zone is rapidly coming to an end. This past one has not been the best of times. In fact, neither have the last two.

I have never been particularly fond of the period of the calendar stretching from the end of the NCAA Tournament, later shortened by a couple of weeks when I began regularly attending the Tech Spring Game, to the time when the next football season started. There was the dearth of college sports along with the stifling heat that made my years as a homebuilder much less enjoyable. Lately, though, I am learning to hate the Dead Zone.

The 2005 Dead Zone saw the heroic resistance against cancer waged by my first ex-wife and son’s mother finally come to an end. This was a young lady I had once been quite fond of and became so again as we spent time together during her final days.

Her death affected me deeply and still does. As miserable an experience as that was, however [even worse for her], the 06 Dead Zone was even more tumultuous.

It had not even begun and neither had the ACC Tournament, when the Teacher sailed down a flight of stairs, breaking a leg in two places. This caused a summer spent first in an operating room then the rest flat on her back with a cast on her leg. This was not the vacation either of us had anticipated.

It got worse. At my routine physical towards the end of March, Original Quack discovered a lump in my neck that he found a bit out of the ordinary. A CT scan was ordered followed by instructions to get myself to Neck Quack at a very quick pace.

There was a visit spent by Neck Quack examining the x-rays and poking and prodding at my neck before announcing that I had a tumor. This is not the cheeriest news one can receive from a quack. It is one thing to be informed that an ex-wife of whom one is still very fond has a serious illness, quite another to be told it is your neck on the line, literally.

Neck Quack then performed something called a Fine Needle Aspiration, a biopsy procedure designed to release the inner medieval dungeon master in medical practitioners. It was performed the Thursday before the Virginia Tech Spring Game and I would not receive the results until the following week. I attended the game not totally sure I would ever see Lane Stadium or the Clubhouse gang again.

The tumor was benign but I was informed it would not stay that way for long. I was dispatched to Surgical Quack, who hacked it out. That was the first night I had spent in a hospital in twenty-three years.

My recovery continues apace. The area without feeling under my left jaw [a true Dead Zone] continues to shrink; the amount of area I lightly run over with an electric razor before attacking the rest of my face with a blade continues to grow smaller. I am getting some solid first-hand research findings in the rate at which nerves regenerate. My left ear, totally numb following the surgery, has seen all of the feeling return with the exception of the lobe. Considering the alternatives, I can deal with no sensation in an ear lobe.

For almost two weeks after surgery I had great difficulty chewing food. I am feeling much better now and am chomping at the bit to consume with gusto whatever Gimme Eat I can mooch from Larry and Clota and anybody else who offers me any at upcoming tailgates.

I came out of this very fortunate. What the various quacks did not tell me and I was not keen to ask, but am now aware, is that these things can cause serious problems. Things turned out for me about as well as they possibly could.

Someone I met in the offices of Surgical Quack was there for the exact same thing as I, only without the benefit of early detection. His experiences are far different from my own. Original Quack has very expensive tastes in vodka, but I consider the cash laid out buying and presenting to him a bottle in appreciation for finding the damned thing money well spent. As is usually the case in these sorts of things, early detection is critical and I had it.

The quality of medical care I received should be lauded. Much has been written and said about the low levels of medical service available locally, especially at the local hospital. Some of it has been written and said by me.

Normally, I head at warp speed to the Duke University Medical Center at the first twinge or sniffle. The logistics of getting to and from Duke made that impossible in this instance. Surgical Quack had told me I would be in no post-surgical shape to drive home and he was correct.

The quality of care I received both from the various quacks and from the personnel at the Danville Regional Medical Center was outstanding. I have no complaints whatsoever, other than the skimpy amounts of morphine ordered by Surgical Quack immediately following the surgery.

The time spent waiting for biopsy results and recovering from surgery provided ample time for a bit of introspection. I am probably not the first guy in his mid-fifties faced with a quasi-serious medical problem to have done so.

I do not seem to be immune to the physical problems and general falling apart brought on by middle age. No exception will be made for me. I likely will not live forever, although I will continue to attempt to do so or die trying.

There are more than likely some bad things in store some time down a road that has shortened a bit since I was in my twenties, thirties, or even forties. One of the possibilities revealed itself, as this Dead Zone had another card to play.

Around the time I was getting the Teacher propped up on cushions, having a dagger jammed into my neck and informed that surgery would be necessary to finish the job, the acute back pain afflicting my mother was diagnosed as a compression fracture of a vertebrae. This is not an uncommon malady to strike women such as my mother, who is no longer a very young lady.

What did seem to be uncommon was that the treatment for the condition, which involved the heavy application of narcotic pain medication, triggered the onslaught of a dementia that had been dropping clues for a while that nobody was recognizing. When a woman, especially one with the zest for shopping as my mother possessed, can no longer remember how to get to the local mall, there was a problem.

Dementia is a very cruel misfortune. My mother, a fiercely independent woman who drove and remained active well into her eighties, was very quickly reduced to dependency on others for virtually all functions. She can no longer remember how to dress herself or increasingly, recognize family and longtime friends. Her back has healed but various quacks inform me that her mind will not.

She was no longer capable of taking care of herself, or living on her own. Some very difficult decisions had to be made by her family. They were made by my brother, who took control of the situation while I was under the knife and placed her in a nursing home. It is highly unlikely she will leave until her remaining days have been lived.

I approach the coming season with, if not a new attitude, a reaffirmation of my previous one. Certainly I enjoy watching Virginia Tech win and earnestly wish and cheer for that outcome. I am not overly fanatical about it, however and will be even less so this year.

While I will enjoy the games, I will enjoy even more seeing and tailgating with old friends and the delight in making new ones. I had cause this past summer to ponder whether I would be again and have been made acutely aware that the time will eventually come when I will not.

Football is not life and death, a fact that is made abundantly clear when one is actually dealing with life and death.

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