Tag Archives: Jack Smith

And along comes pneumonia …

THIS was going to be the week that I resumed regular blogging. The week I was going to master active voice and conquer passive voice. (Except that sentence). The week my weekly cycling total would eclipse 50 miles. The week that long-delayed, long-term projects at the Columbia Daily Tribune would get new life and bring smiles to the faces of my editors.

I had big plans.

Then along came pneumonia. It’s (at least) the ninth time this respiratory malady has flattened me in the last 20 years.

I know, I know. There seems to be a problem here. Two years ago, my fine physician, Dr. Carin Reust (University Physicians, Smiley Lane Clinic), fashioned a plan to figure out why I’m so susceptible to pneumonia. Whereas most people get a bad cold or maybe influenza and then, after suffering with the first ailment for a while they contract the secondary infection of pneumonia, I get a scratchy throat, a cough, maybe a sneeze and BAM! — pneumonia. Skip all the in-between incubation time.

It’s like a cruel board game I’ve thought about creating. It’s called “You’re Sick!” Roll the dice, move your marker (a DNA-helix of the influenza virus, a vial that represents live smallpox from the CDC in Atlanta, things like that), and you land on a square that says “Select A Symptom.” You pick a card, and yours would say, “Scratchy throat.” In your next move, you drink a gallon of orange juice and that symptom disappears. Trouble is, you now have a “severe lower gastrointestinal disturbance.” Now, I pick a card that says “Scratchy Throat,” and on my next move, I land smack dab on the “Pneumonia” square.

It’s true. I almost always go from zero to 60 like that — from picture of health to pneumonia. I rarely get a common cold or a common anything. I had viral meningitis in 1989 and pleurisy in 1992. And somewhere along the way, according to chest x-rays taken in 2010 during a period of good health, I developed scar tissue in my right lung. Just a smidgen, but probably a tell-tale sign that I had undiagnosed, untreated pneumonia or some other brachialcardialigistic ailment, probably during childhood or my teen years. (I just made up that brachialcaria-word, by the way).

In late 2009 my side business of painting, minor carpentry, window cleaning and deep cleaning  (stuff that no one else wants to clean) was so booked that I actually took off work from the Trib the last week of ’09 to finish two jobs. The last part of the last job was spraying “popcorn” texture onto a ceiling on which I’d inflicted dry-wall repair.

I didn’t wear a mask. Within two weeks I was down with pneumonia and that was the end of Jodie The Handyman. Solvents, cleaners, paint and similar chemicals sort of freeze up my lungs now. The allergic/respiratory reaction doesn’t cause pneumonia, but it basically sets me up for the illness. Or something like that.

I have a few ideas where this scar tissue came from:

– All that airplane model glue that I huffed as a kid. (Okay, I made that up). But these are real …

– Spring 1984, as I siphoned gas from the car to transfer into the garden tiller, I got a mouthful. Some of it made it down my gullet. I probably aspirated just enough not to kill me. I remember that incident by this name: The. Longest. Night. Of. My. Life. Remind me to tell you more about it later.

– July 1978, when I nearly drowned in the Gasconade River. Some of that nasty water made it down my windpipe. My lungs burned for days.

– 1981, Rolla, Mo., Godfather’s pizza. My high school debate partner, Jack Smith, did a sort of Heimlich maneuver on me as I choked on lava-hot double-cheese pizza. Pretty sure a melted bit of that delicious cuisine wound up in a lung.

– 1982, March. After walking back to North Ellis Hall, my dorm at Central Missouri State University, from Country Kitchen, where several of us had a Bible study and where I learned that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian because I’d never spoken in tongues, I went to bed around 2 a.m. Just after falling asleep, I woke up panicked, unable to breathe. No air in, no air out. I raced to the bathroom, splashed water onto my face and stared in the mirror as my eyes bulged and the room spun. Somehow I managed a gasp. (That happened again a month later, but never again since, unless you count sleep apnea, which I also have).

Anyway, I reported to my Pentecostal friends what had happened and that immediately upon regaining full respiratory function, I spoke in tongues. “Sorry,” said my buddy Chris. “Did you pray for interpretation?” No, I hadn’t. Chris said he’d pray for my soul.

There you have it. More of my medical history than you probably wanted to know. And all of this to explain that I’ve missed work all week and, by doctor’s orders, I won’t be back until Monday. Meanwhile, Nurse Kelly is providing exceptional care and, so far, I think I’ve been a pretty good patient.

So far.

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My (not so) finest hours

It’s Friday. That means a memoir-in-progress flashback to the big hair and big dreams of the 1980s.

From the pages of My Senior Drear, the day-by-day, hour-by-hour log of each day of my four years of tormenting classmates, teachers and administrators at Belle High School …

Monday, Feb. 23, 1981 – Second hour (astronomy). Some stuff about Saturn. Ten or 11 moons, rings are made out of chunks of ice, blah blah blah … and these notes:

“Uranus orbits the sun once for every 84 earth years. It has five moons … Tim asks Mr. Abel how many of the moons could fit in Uranus. Mr. A. ignored him … I asked Tim how many moons he thought would fit in Uranus. Tim says, ‘We’re not talking about myanus. I’m wondering about Uranus.’ However, I respectfully insisted, ‘Myanus ain’t nobody’s business.’”

Laughter. Hysterical laughter. (At least from me and Tim).

“Mr. A. says he’s worried about me and Tim … Worried we’re going to end up in prison someday.”

How to not win

In a moment I’ll present the evidence of one of the most bone-headed decisions I ever made – at least up to the point of me being 17-years-old. I was a speech-and-debate nerd and excelled in original oratory (wrote a speech, memorized it, delivered it in compelling, convincing manner); debate (when we were on the “affirmative” side, Jack Smith and I advocated for banning tobacco products, and we wiped out the competition … until we came up against state champion debaters from Pattonville High); and extemporaneous speaking.

I was a wiz at extemp. You’d draw a topic from a bowl or hat, then you had 30 minutes to jot down an outline or ideas on a notecard. When your name was called, you presented a five- or six-minute persuasive speech.

Sometimes the topic related to a current event of the day, and me being a news nerd and all, I’d knock those speeches out of the park. I was the conference champion. (I LOVED extemp and, to this day, seem to have the gift of gab.)

And then I got stupid. And arrogant.

You see, one strategy of extemporaneous speaking was to assume a position opposite from the prevailing public opinion. I could advocate for or against nuclear energy. (How many of you kids out there remember when the Callaway Plant wasn’t there? I warned against the civilization-ending certainty of unmanageable nuclear waste or the national security danger of depending on fossil fuels and foreign oil for our energy). I could convince an astronaut that space travel was wasteful and unnecessary.

So there I was in the spring of 1981, in the semi-final round of the state speech and debate tournament in Jefferson City. The questions we chose from related to state policy. I was on a roll.

And then I reached into a tumbler and pulled out the folded piece of paper with my question: “Should Missouri legalize prostitution?”

Conventional wisdom said, “Don’t get cute here.”

But I was much less conventional back in 1981. I prepared a note card (below, just the front included here) with an outline that I was sure would convince anyone that, of course, we should legalize the world’s oldest profession.

I strutted into the room, already wondering what my championship round speech topic might be, when I realized the judge was a woman older than my grandparents.

I stayed the course of unconventional.

The judge was unconvinceable.

It was my final speech of the state tournament.

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