Bugs, bugs, bugs. And I’m not talking coding here.

After awhile, bugs landing on you while you’re in the garden are as ho-hum as finding pocket lint: you’re so used to it by long exposure that it is a mere annoyance to flick one off your arm (or face) and stomp it dead.

This is what happened to me this evening as I wandered out into the back garden for the first time in quite some time after taking out a couple of very light garbage bags. Despite serious neglect, blight, and a complete invasion of leaffooted bugs, stinkbugs, and who knows what else, partying along like it’s their personal buffet, there are some things that are still growing – some completely out of control. The okra, for instance, is actually starting to lean from the weight of the uncut fruit on the stems, the largest of which are starting to curl into themselves much like those crazy fingernails people grow in a strange attempt to get into Guinness.The eggplant continues to thrive even though it was transplanted hastily before my surgery and virtually ignored since that time. The new round of peanuts, planted post-surgery, is coming up well, although we won’t be able to pluck those out until around December, assuming the weather holds. The cukes are spent, and need to be pulled, but all three varieties were excellent producers while they were producing, but next year I think we will stick with two varieties that everyone judged tastier than the third.

There are also small watermelons scattered here and there, ready to be picked, as they are hybrids specifically bred to be what amounts to a single-serving melon. I pulled one while out looking around, since the bottom was starting to yellow and get soft. After breaking it open, it showed itself to be slightly mealy from having been out too long, but otherwise a perfect specimen of a tiny version of the behemoth watermelons that are so often seen: deep, ruby red flesh studded with black seeds, the clear, strong scent of fresh fruit wafting up from the split pieces.

Other things have not fared as well, and it is a significant disappointment that another season has been lost without what should have been a bounty of zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers, both sweet and hot. Late transplants, poor weather, and medical issues both in the family and for me personally have led to pitiful looking plants, both earlier in the season and since I went in for surgery. But, like a good Cubs fan would, all I can say is: wait until next season. The good part for me is that my next season is right around the corner, even if the continued 100-degree weather makes it seem as if summer will last quite a way into the fall.

Next up: I should be receiving the shipment of garlic for fall planting. That will go into the cold room until the weather moderates a little, since these particular garlics do not like overly hot weather (not to mention that the frames where these will be planted are not ready to receive them yet). In the flats, I plan to start brussels, broccoli, cauliflower and in the frames directly, carrots and onions. If the weather cools off into the low 80s consistently, we’ll also put in a late round of snow peas.

Overall, today, looking at the state of affairs, considering all the work that has been plowed (so to speak) into the effort: disappointing and depressing.

Draining. Literally.

Since before the actual discovery of the big C in my right lung, I’d been having some coughing, pain, and shortness of breath here and there. This is why we thought maybe I’d been walking around with a touch of pneumonia rather than with a dome sized lesion on the upper lobe of my right lung. The pain itself was bilateral for the most part, which lent itself even more to that theory.

After the surgery, I’d still been having those same symptoms. The PET scan showed fluid in the left lung (but all clear of any cancerous bits on the right, including a questionable lymph node near the trachea that the thoracic surgeon removed while removing the wedge fro the right lung). OK, we thought, a little fluid. That would jibe with what we figured, and would explain a lot. Another visit with the pulmonologist, amazingly set up very quickly for yesterday.

Now, I’m thinking, a touch of pneumonia. That means drugs, come back in 10 days after the cycle is complete. But as usual, it turned out to be far more complicated, given that I’m trying to squeeze more medical-related visits and procedures into these past five years than I’d ever had in all the previous years of my life combined. And I must say, that’s working out pretty well, so I have that going for me.

The pulmonologist thumped around on my back on both sides, and said you definitely have some fluid in there. I’d like to go ahead and drain it right now. This is not something I’ve ever had done before, so yet another brand new experience in dealing with cancer and all the assorted bullshit that goes with it. Fine, I say, we might as well get it over with. I figure it will be fairly quick.

To his credit, the doctor did warn me it might be painful as the fluid drained and the lung reexpanded. In addition, there was likely some inflammation in the lining, so as the fluid drained out, the inflamed tissue rubbing together would probably be very painful, at least for awhile.

The nurse brought in the tools – new word learned: thoracentesis! – along with a liter bottle and several test tubes. Keep in mind that a liter is just over a quart. This will be important later. They numbed up an area slightly below my left shoulder blade and a bit toward the spine, set a drape over me, and then….punched a hole in my back between a couple of ribs. Once into the fluid-filled area, they inserted a catheter, attached a tube, and started draining. I myself was sitting, leaning on a pillow over a table next to the exam table. Obviously I couldn’t see any of this going on. But boy, I felt it.

It’s a strange feeling to have liquid quite literally being pulled out of the body. From time to time I could feel bubbling as the fluid was outbound. It kept going on and on, and I really started to wonder: just how much fluid was he pulling out, anyway? To make things worse, the longer it went on, the more painful, internally, it became, and eventually, I was panting like a dog, and sweating profusely. The nurse brought in some cold towels, put one on my neck and started wiping my face down with another. At the point where I gasped, “I think I’m going to pass out.”, we went on for another minute or so, and then stopped. They pulled the catheter, slapped a bandage on, and when I sat up, the resulting pain was about as intense a pain I’ve ever felt. Combine that with an inability to breathe normally, and you have the makings of a panic attack, really.

Luckily, I told myself I wasn’t dying, and we managed to get me into a semi-reclined position to relax for a few minutes. It was then that I saw how much fluid they’d pulled out. The three test tubes were full, which I expected. What I did not expect was to see the entire liter bottle was also full, to the very top. Even if we hadn’t had to stop because of the pain, we’d had to have stopped because there was nothing else to hold more fluid.

The fluid was sent off to the lab, and I was sent off for a chest xray (which looked good – he said that was about 98% of the fluid, gone) and then a CT scan with contrast (for those of you who have been through this, you know that delightful feeling that you’re about to piss yourself that comes when they release the contrast into your system). The CT scan results we don’t have, but I have a followup appointment next week, at which point we’ll do another xray before talking to the doctor, to see where we stand.

The pain is still with me, although subsiding, slowly. The area where they punched a hole in my back is quite painful, but what can you expect after having a puncture wound deliberately introduced?

Today, a visit with the oncologist to go over the PET scan results with him, and to plot our course from here. That will likely just be a return to quarterly scans to make sure we’re still all clear.

How to piss off tech support, part infinity

When you are contacting us for support, because you’re working on a site for one of our clients, here are some tips on how to piss off the very people you’re asking for help.

Open a ticket saying you can’t upload to an application you’ve installed. Don’t include any other information. We love trying to figure out what the hell you’ve done to break something that’s been working just fine, and love even more rechecking ownership of and permissions on files, and tracking back through the logs.

While we’re working on that, open yet another ticket saying the site is entirely down. When we look at it, the site is in fact down, because it can’t establish a database connection. That seems odd, since the site has been working just fine. Until…

After we tell you the problem is the configuration file and the credentials the file is trying to use to connect are incorrect, tell us you haven’t changed anything. Except, oh, you changed the password for the main account user.

When we repair the configuration file to use valid and proper credentials, and then tell you that if you change little, minor things like, oh, PASSWORDS, you need to update configuration files that use those passwords, ask us how you’re supposed to change the file without FTP or control panel access. This will surely make us ask you what the hell you’re talking about because you just told us you were in the control panel and changed the password, and this has nothing to do with us correcting a database configuration file. Ergo, you should be able to do whatever it is you need to do, since presumably you were just in the control panel doing whatever it is you were doing.

An HOUR later, complain that you still can’t access FTP or the control panel. Since both are working fine, and the site is working just fine because we repaired things, this will make us even happier as we go hunting through the logs only to find you locked yourself out – and locked out the actual client as well, since you’re at their location – by continually attempting to log in with an incorrect password. A password that you changed from the control panel. A password that you should know. You kept trying to log in with an obviously incorrect password instead of stopping and just contacting us, which triggered the firewall.

When we tell you what you’ve done – without pointing out the definition of futility, I might add – and then tell you we unblocked your IP and reset the password, respond with a request to rest the password to “changeme”. Nothing delights us like easily guessed, massively insecure passwords.

And finally, when we tell you that we’re not resetting the password to that, give us a snotty “Fine.” followed by a haughty “I want it on the record” that you find our response insufficient and too slow. This despite the fact that the entirety of the issue, start to finish, was created by you, and it took you an HOUR to respond to something we managed to reply to in exactly seven minutes.

All of this will certainly ensure that we put you at the top of the douchebag list, and further will ensure that we let the client know – because they also contacted us about the site being down – exactly why everything was a mess. There was insufficiency going on here, that is certain. It is equally certain that it had nothing whatsoever to do with us.

I see trees of green…red roses too

The former more than the latter, to be completely honest, as it was a long drive to the dentist this morning via my usual path that takes me past vast swaths of land that is protected or that is part of the lands to parks program. I am also not partial to growing roses, or flowers of any sort, really, other than sunflowers and zinnias (and marigolds to try to keep the bugs at bay). This to see if a tooth – or, should I say, yet another tooth – which had started to fall apart, shearing off in pieces at the gumline, should be rebuilt or should just be pulled. This is a tooth I’d previously had a root canal on, something I realized when looking at it in the mirror and seeing the vertical trench that was left in the remaining portion of the tooth, and the posts used to fill the canal that were coming out from that procedure.

And this is one of the ironies of my life, really. I have a device to help passively stretch my jaws. Using it involves placing it between the frontmost upper and lower teeth. In the past three months, I’ve been through scans, biopsies, surgeries, a week in the hospital, recovery time at home in pain, then getting a bit better, then taking a downturn with massive pain on the left side (not the side on which the surgery was done), then managing to use the device for a couple of days, then having the tooth start to fall apart, which led to so much pain that once again, the device was put aside. So, I need to be able to use the device before the eventuality that all my teeth are pulled so I’ll be able to get fitted for fake teeth. Yet, I cannot use it because my teeth insist on falling apart at a rate that grows faster and faster as time passes. One would think they’d have a way to treat this in a better manner, given everything that is known about trismus and what happens when it isn’t stressed enough to a head and neck cancer patient that keeping the jaw muscles active (even though typically, you’re eating through a tube for a great while) is vital.

In other news, I had a PET scan on Tuesday. I was expecting results by the end of the week, but remarkably enough, the radiation oncologist called the very next day with results: the stuff that needed to come out on the right side was all collected, and it looks clear. What does not look clear is the left lung, which shows fluid. Being the nice guy he is, he called the radiologist to have them pull the previous scans and xray from before surgery, and wouldn’t you know it: fluid in the left lung. It appears that walking pneumonia may very well be a valid side diagnosis to all this cancer business after all.

And that brings me to my personal hell week. Next week, an appointment with the oncologist, to go over the PET scan and to plot a course of action (likely: quarterly scans to keep an eye on me, since they don’t know what else to do with me since I insist on being different). An appointment with the pulmonologist, to talk about this fluid on the left side, and figure out a course of action for that (likely: a base, post-surgery xray, with a followup in a couple of weeks, which leaves me with more time to cough and get short of breath from time to time). A visit with my accountant, to tell me that I need to write a check. And also a possibility, an appointment with a nutrionist, given my weight loss in the hospital that took me down to about 100 pounds, and my inability to get more weight on even though it seems like I am constantly shoving food down my piehole – and, to add to the fun, I seem to be bouncing between 98 and 100. If I lose any more weight, the chances of having to have a feeding tube put back in increases, and quite frankly, remembering that particular experience from last time, this is not something I want to do again.

And so we go, moving from one thing to another, dealing once more with the aftereffects of another cancer diagnosis that should not have happened. The garden is almost entirely a lost cause, but what did I spy the other day when taking a brief foray out? Eggplants! Black, shiny eggplants, hanging on the plants that have managed to survive brutal, incessant heat and brutal, damaging storms that roll through here and there. The okra continues to be a scary, vibrant presence that needs harvesting in the worst way. The second round of peanuts have come up, and the way the weather looks, it will be warm enough into December that they will have maximum growth. I have yet to start any flats for fall because it simply continues to be much too hot to plant those things out by the time they would be ready to graduate. Overall, the season has been lost, again. But another season does approach, albeit slowly, and I’m looking forward to it.

Moving forward

Everyone is always after results: test results, harvest results, weather results, sports results. The results we received from the oncologist were, I must admit, those I had suspected would be the case. The sample was negative for the markers for which it was tested, as I knew it would be – after all, if the primary sample had tested positive for those same markers at the time, it would have been quite simple to point to an actual cause of the original occurrence rather than it being a grand mystery. But it didn’t, and neither did this one, which leaves us in the same position with this one as with the first. No one knows why someone with no risk factors at all amongst the various possibilities wound up with not one but two rare (for my category of risk) cancers.

Our next step, after meeting up with the radiation oncologist who developed the treatment plan for the first episode, is another PET scan. A baseline, if you will, of the state of my system,  post-surgery, to make sure that everything that needed to be cut out was cut out, and that no other hot spots appear. That will be next week, and I have to say that I’m not looking forward to it. Not because the procedure itself is scary or painful, but because you can’t eat anything for a period before the test. During my week in the hospital, I lost about eight pounds, leaving me tipping the scale dial right at about a hundred pounds. Trying to maintain that, much less put anything back on, is a daily struggle, and the way a healing body burns through calories, not eating for at least eight hours is going to be a tough road to take, and the end result will be a queasy and cranky Captain. I plan to stuff a cooler in the car with something to immediately boost my blood sugar as soon as the test is finished and they turn me loose.

The week after that, back to the oncologist, as the results of the PET will be back by then, and at least we’ll have something concrete there to look at and see where we stand.

Recovery continues, slowly. Weight maintenance/gain is the single largest issue right now, followed closely by range of motion/strength rebuilding in the affected area. I have this nasty dry cough thing going on, which aggravates every muscle they cut through during surgery, along with the ribs they spread apart to get a good view of the lung. Try coughing without involving any abdominal or back muscle. Doesn’t work very well. On the plus side, I’m not coughing up any blood, and it’s probably related to the fact that I spend the vast majority of my time inside in the air conditioning rather than splitting my time between being inside and being in the great outdoors. It’s simply too hot and humid right now to be outside doing anything much of consequence other than stepping out from time to time, as it’s difficult to breathe the heavy, humid, still air without starting to gasp like a fish unceremoniously dumped out of the bowl. Since our fall won’t arrive for a couple of months yet, the most I can hope for is periodic trips outside without doing anything strenuous (like pull weeds) and that the weather modulates just a tad to something more bearable so I can start getting back outside here and there, even for a short walk around the gardens that are going to hell.